“The Listening Society” by Hanzi Freinacht – Summary and Review

The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book One (Metamodern Guides), by Hanzi Freinacht; Metamoderna ApS (March 10, 2017), 414 pages

Click here to see Part 1 of my summary and review of Nordic Ideology.

Click here to see Part 2 of my summary and review of Nordic Ideology.

Click here to see Part 3 of my summary and review of Nordic Ideology.

Prologue and Introduction

Hanzi Freinacht is the pen name of the Swedish duo Emil Ejner Friis and Daniel Görtz. Since the book is written as if by a single author, I will be referring to the imaginary “philosopher, historian, and sociologist” as a single person.

Avatar of “Hanzi Freinacht

At the beginning of the book the writing style of Hanzi Freinacht (hereafter Hanzi) uses an affectation of arrogance and even combativeness with us readers, though, thankfully, this is downplayed in the main body of the text after the Prologue and Introduction. This, he thinks, is a way of making what he says have more emotional impact, thereby getting his important message through the thick skulls of us, the readers. Unfortunately, he doesn’t use the Oxford comma in his many lists of terms, concepts, and people, which is probably his biggest offense. But looking past that, the message of this book is political; the underlying philosophy is metamodernism. Hanzi says:

Political metamodernism is built around one central insight. The King’s road to a good future society is personal development and psychological growth. And humans develop much better if you fulfill their innermost psychological needs. So we’re looking for a “deeper” society; a civilization more socially apt, emotionally intelligent and existentially mature. [bold and italics in original]

Hanzi says there are three parts of his political metamodernism:

  1. The Listening Society: a welfare system that also treats psychological needs
  2. Co-Development: wanting to see everyone succeed, even if there are disagreements
  3. The Nordic Ideology: political structure beginning to arise in the Nordic countries that implements the Listening Society and Co-Development; includes six new forms of politics (which won’t be covered until his next book)

In the same way that modernism fixed the problems of pre-modernism, Hanzi says, metamodernism will fix the problems of modernism, namely:

  • the multifaceted ecological crisis;
  • the instability of the economy;
  • the excessive global inequalities;
  • the widespread anxiety, or “alienation”, that modern people harbor;
  • the challenges of global migration;
  • the transition to a postindustrialist, robotized and digitalized economy;
  • and the challenges of transnational governance.

To begin this new development, Hanzi wants us to think about what development and freedom actually mean. According to him, you don’t know, but he is going to describe to us (his version) of these concepts. In doing so, he says he will cure us of our intellectual blindness, the two most pernicious of which are the following:

  • Developmental blindness – meaning that you consistently fail to see the developmental states of human beings, animals and societies.
  • Inner dimensions blindness – meaning that you consistently fail to take into account the subjective dimensions of life and how they fundamentally shape society and reality.

Hanzi goes on to spill a lot of ink talking about his arrogant affectation and making the point to us that he is offering something new, something we can get from nobody but him. He says, for instance:

I come from academia, so I know roughly what the philosophers, legal scholars, economists, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, historians and psychologists are up to. And none of them can offer you the understanding you get in this book.

After naming a bunch of the great thinkers and schools of thought and asserting that none of them will give us what this book does, Hanzi says:

Your favorite philosopher won’t save you, even if it’s Charles Sanders Peirce himself. In fact, I hereby challenge you to find one source in the world that says anything resembling the overall message of this book and its sequel. You, the contemporary reader, cannot.

But then offers a bit of humility:

And, of course, in this beautiful transpersonal world where everybody is entangled with everything, in a gazillion hypercomplex ways, Hanzi Freinacht couldn’t even exist without the inspiring and groundbreaking works of pretty much all of the above [thinkers and schools of thought he spends a page listing]. Just as I cannot exist without you, the reader. You are co-creating me through the brave act of reading a stranger’s words.

Hanzi warns us of double-binds that he anticipates that we will inflict upon him. He does this by inflicting a double-bind on us, one reminiscent of the Christian apologetics maneuver known as the noetic effect of sin: that we need to listen to his ideas, but that it will cause us discomfort by confronting our self-deceptions and lead us to resist, which is only further proof of how radical and necessary his ideas are. Hanzi says “The more radical the new idea, the more painful it is to accommodate.” The double-binds he anticipates us readers trying to catch him in are as follows:

  • Specifics please: asking for specifics of his metamodern program in order to refute them by saying he doesn’t understand the wider context.
  • The humble seeker: saying that if someone is a “rigid system builder” (like Hanzi styles himself) then the humble seeker can dismiss them as not taking more nuance into account, but if they are not a “rigid system builder” then they can be dismissed as having no answers.
  • Spiritual purity: if the person is too intellectual, then you accuse them of not being spiritual enough, allowing you to feel morally superior. If the person then tries not to think too much, then you can dismiss them as having nothing of intellectual value to offer.

So we can see the double-bind that Hanzi wants to trap the reader within: we can’t expect specifics, we can’t bring up where his system breaks down, and we can’t ask him to be more “spiritual”, or otherwise it’s us continuing to deceive ourselves – only the unenlightened could object to Hanzi, just as only someone whose mind has been warped by sin would ever question Christian dogma. Being open-minded means listening to Hanzi.

Of course, Hanzi gives himself an out, because this is metamodernism. And what is metamodernism? It’s “sincere irony”: “Metamodernism is the marriage of extreme irony with deep, unyielding sincerity.” And so, whenever we might feel angry at Hanzi’s arrogant affectation, we can just tell ourselves that it’s him being ironic in order to be sincere without us dismissing his earnestness out of our own cynicism.

This book is split into two parts. The first part makes the following arguments:

  1. A shift in political attitudes is happening, and the Scandinavian countries are at the vanguard of this change
  2. The change is the coupling of financial/economic welfare with psychological welfare
  3. It is both possible (practically speaking) and necessary (morally speaking) that this change happen the world over

The second part isn’t an argument so much as an explication of four types of psychological stages, which are:

  1. Cognitive Stages – at what level of complexity a person can think; this uses the Model of Hierarchical Complexity (MHC)
  2. Symbol-Stages – the sort of knowledge that is available that people can “download” and that are divided into metamemes or symbol-stages (e.g., Modernism, Postmodernism, Metamodernism)
  3. Subjective States – a fundamental sense of what it is like to be experiencing you and your world right now; Hanzi gives this a scale that ranges between extremes of soul-crushing awfulness and spiritual transcendence
  4. Depth – basically wisdom, which is a function of how many Subjective States you have experienced throughout life and how well you have integrated those into your personal being

As usual with these summary-reviews, this is a highly truncated version of the book, filtered through my own biases, and as such is not a replacement for reading the book. It’s a supplement.


The appendixes right after the introduction? This Hanzi guy must be off his rocker. Well, actually, it’s me who is putting a section about the appendixes first (Hanzi has it at the end of the monograph where they belong). Indeed, the two authors sometimes even drop the whole Hanzi conceit in the Appendixes, sometimes using we/our pronouns.

In the introduction Hanzi used the metaphor that metamodernism is like the engine and the book like a car – one does not need to know how the engine works in order to use the car. But it’s in the appendixes that he gives us a peek under the hood. So, I though it might be good to get a better look at the engine before we take this baby for a spin.

So, what is metamodernism according to Hanzi? By reading the appendix, one gets the distinct impression that it is mostly just a less pessimistic form of postmodernism with a Hegelian dialectical optimism conjoined to it. The so-called metamodern trend was famously first noted in the 2010 paper “Notes on Metamodernism” by Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker. There the two authors state:

Ontologically, metamodernism oscillates between the modern and the postmodern. It oscillates between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, between naivete and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity. Indeed, by oscillating to and fro or back and forth, the metamodern negotiates between the modern and the postmodern. One should be careful not to think of this oscillation as  a balance however; rather, it is a pendulum swinging between 2, 3, 5, 10, innumerable poles. Each time the metamodern enthusiasm swings toward fanaticism, gravity pulls it back toward irony; the moment its irony sways toward apathy,
gravity pulls it back toward enthusiasm.

Both the metamodern epistemology (as if) and its ontology (between) should thus be conceived of as a ‘‘both-neither’’ dynamic. They are each at once modern and postmodern and neither of them. This dynamic can perhaps most appropriately be described by the metaphor of metaxis. Literally, the term metataxis translates as ‘‘between.’’ It has however, via Plato and later theGerman philosopher Eric Voegelin, come to be associated with the experience of existence and consciousness. Voegelin describes metaxis as follows:

Existence has the structure of the In-Between, of the Platonic metaxy, and if anything is constant in the history of mankind it is the language of tension between life and death, immortality and mortality, perfection and imperfection, time and timelessness, between order and disorder, truth and untruth, sense and senselessness of existence; between amor Dei and amor sui, l’aˆme ouverte and l’ame close; . . .

For Voegelin thus, metaxis intends the extent to which we are at once both here and there and nowhere. As one critic puts it: metaxis is ‘‘constituted by the tension, nay, by the irreconcilability of man’s participatory existence between finite processes on the one hand, and an unlimited, intracosmic or transmundane reality on the other’’.

We can see the Marxian and especially Hegelian influence, where opposites exist within one another. For instance, in The Encyclopedia Logic, Hegel says a lot of things like:

In the Dialectical stage these finite characterisations or formulae supersede themselves, and pass into their opposites. [EL section 81]


Nothing, if it be thus immediate and equal to itself, is also conversely the same as Being is. The truth of Being and of Nothing is accordingly the unity of the two: and this unity is Becoming. [EL section 88]

This is Hegel’s notion of sublation or negation (Aufheben – literally translated as lifted, where it’s supposed to mean that the synthesis of two opposites transcends the two concepts).

The distinction between Nature and Mind is not improperly conceived, when the former is traced back to reality, and the latter so fixed and complete as to subsist even without Mind: in Mind it first, as it were, attains its goal and its truth. And similarly, Mind on its part is not merely a world beyond Nature and nothing more: it is really, and with full proof, seen to be mind, only when it involves Nature as absorbed in itself. Apropos of this, we should note the double meaning of the German word aufheben (to put by or set aside). We mean by it (1) to clear away, or annul: thus, we say, a law or regulation is set aside; (2) to keep, or preserve: in which sense we use it when we say: something is well put by. This double usage of language, which gives to the same word a positive and negative meaning, is not an accident, and gives no ground for reproaching language as a cause of confusion. We should rather recognise in it the speculative spirit of our language rising above the mere ‘either-or’ of understanding. [EL section 96; bold added]

This Marxian/Hegelian dialectic of Hanzi’s project is also seen in his section titled Three Meanings of Metamodernism, which are:

  1. A Cultural Phase: different phases reflect a different ethos or zeitgeist of an era, but they are not necessarily dependent on one another
  2. A Developmental Stage: similar to a phase, but now they build on one another such that one stage can be thought of as more advanced than an earlier stage. Think of developmental psychology, where a child is a person who had built on the stages before (toddler, infant) and a teenager then builds on that and so forth. Similarly, Marx saw developmental stages in history through his historical materialism. Hanzi says:
    • “Stage theories make greater claims than phase theories. They hold that there is a much deeper qualitative shift between each stage and that there is a certain pattern or logic that describes the relationship between all of the stages, what I call a Realdialektik in chapter 10.” [bold and italics in original]
  3. A Philosophical Paradigm: this, Hanzi says, it what his work is building towards. It is a sort of dialectical synthesis of Phase and Stage theories:
    1. “To be clear, our claim is that Hanzi’s line of thinking represents a high developmental stage and a certain Zeitgeist of a new form of society that is being born… In this sense, metamodernism is a pradigm. A paradigm, as the word is used here, is a fundamental worldview with its own form of science, politics, market, culture and self-knowledge…”

The “metamodern paradigm entails…six categories…” which are (including a select few (but not all) of the ideas associated with them, according to Hanzi (bold/italics in original)):

  1. Life
    • To be exquisitely ironic and sincere, both at once.
    • To accept and thrive in the paradoxical, self-contradictory, always incomplete and broken nature of society, culture, and reality itself.
    • To have a general both-and perspective. But note that it is not either “both-and” or “either-or” – rather, it is both “both-and” and “either-or”. In each case, it is still possible to have well-argued preferences:
      • both political Left and Right (and neither one!);
      • both top-down and bottom-up governance
      • both objective science and subjective experience
      • both extreme secularism and sincere spirituality
  2. Science
    • To respect science as an indispensable form of knowing.
    • To see that science is always contextual and truth always tentative; that reality always holds deeper truths. All that we think is real will one day melt away as snow in the sun.
    • To celebrate and embody non-linearity in all non-mechanical matters, such as society and culture. Non-linearity, in its simplest definition, means that the output of a system is not proportional to its input.
    • To harbor a case sensitive suspicion against mechanical models and linear causation.
  3. Reality
    • To see the fractal nature of reality and of the development and applicability of ideas, that all understanding consists in reused elements taken from other forms of understanding.
    • To be anti-essentialist, not believing in “ultimate essences” such as matter, consciousess, goodness, evil, masculinity, femininity or the like – but rather that all these things are contextual and interpretations made from relations and comparisons. Even the today so praised “relationality” is not an essence of the universe.
    • To accept the necessity of developmental hierarchies – but to be very critical and careful with how they are described and used. Hierarchies are studied empirically, not arbitrarily assumed.
    • To see that the world runs on dialectic logic, where things are always broken, always “stumbling backwards” as it were; that things are always striving for an impossible balance and in that accidental movement create the whole dance that we experience as reality. So the development of reality does have directionality, it’s just that we are always blind to this direction; hence the metaphor of “stumbling backwards”.
  4. Spirituality
    • To take existential and spiritual matters very seriously; to view humanity, intelligence and consciousness as expressions of higher principles inherent to the universe.
    • To intuit that the central spiritual and existential insight is the perfection of absolute totality [very Hegelian] as it always-already [sic] is; that there is a pristine, serene clarity underneath all the chaos and contradiction; that there is an underlying elegance even in the often tragic, hell-like experience of life; hidden, as it were, in plain sight. This can be called the recognition of “basic goodness”
  5. Society
    • To see no fundamental divide between nature and culture
    • To believe that history has some kind of directionality based on logic, but that this directionality can never be certainly known, only metaphorically and told as a story – playfully and purposefully.
    • To understand that technology is not neutral, not just “a tool in our hands”, but that it adopts its own agenda and logic, shaping and steering history.
  6. The Human Being
    1. To see that humans are behavioral, organic “robots”, controlled by our responses to the environment, and that we are simultaneously subjective, self-organizing and alive – beings of great existential depth.
    2. To have a non-anthropocentric view of reality, where human experience is not seen as the measure of all things.

What I’ve included here was just a sample of the seven pages full of bulleted points that Hanzi offers as how these six categories embody the metamodern paradigm. One can definitely see the Marxian and especially Hegelian influence here – the both-and perspective, the dialectic logic, the directionality of history, etc.

Dialectic logic is interesting, sometimes useful, and often a truism. A truism because it has always been the case that, with two competing concepts or hypotheses (maybe a hypo-thesis and a hypo-antithesis?) people will jettison what doesn’t work in both and bring together what does. What worries me, however, is that the Hegelian/Marxian insight into dialectics may end up doing the same thing that Aristotle’s syllogistic logic did: getting philosophy stuck in a rut for two millennia. For a long time, people thought that Aristotle had been the first and last word on all things logic (and thereby ignoring the important contributions by the stoics, for instance), which hindered progress in that discipline until the 19th century, when people like Hegel/Marx, Augustus De Morgan, Charles Sanders Pierce, Gottlob Frege, and the originators of set theory (e.g., Karl Weierstrass, Richard Dedekind, Giuseppe Peano, Georg Cantor) began rapidly updating the discipline. If people now think that dialectical logic is the final word, they will continue viewing things through the lens of dialectics, which may cause people to miss out on other insights or fail to progress the discipline beyond the current paradigm.

I don’t know how much the appendixes spell out a methodology, but they do give some insight into how the authors think and how they will approach politics and cognitive/psychological development, which are the two overarching topics discussed in this book. And so now that we’ve checked under the hood, and without further ado, lets take this car for a ride.

Part One: The New Political Landscape

Chapter 1: How Politics Changed

Hanzi begins by singing the praises of Sweden, and the Scandinavian countries more generally, for their progressive culture and politics. He offers the following figure (his figure is from 2015, but they are more-or-less the same, especially with the relevant placement of the Scandinavian countries):

So, we can see that the Scandinavian countries are all in the upper right, where Secular Values and Self-Expression Values are most prominent. Probably the main difference between this 2020 map and the 2015 one that Hanzi used is that the Baltic countries have been absorbed into Catholic Europe (green) and have moved noticeably toward Self-Expression (going from around -1 in 2015 on the lower axis to around 0 in 2020 on the lower axis).

Hanzi says:

Even if the values of countries do jerk back and forth over time, the overall progression is clear: We are headed towards a world with more cosmopolitan values; values which according to Inglehardt-Welzel’s own analysis work better in modern society.

Happiness is becoming uncoupled from money and materialism, Hanzi says, such that increasing economic output in a country will do little to make its citizens happier. This is seen, for instance, between Sweden and Norway, where the latter has higher GDP per capita (because of natural resources, namely oil), but has the same levels of happiness scores. This is known as the Easterlin Paradox. Hanzi says that this is because the money-happiness relationship is logarithmic and not linear: if a person goes from earning $1 a day to $2 a day, their happiness will go up considerably; if a person goes from earning $1,000 a day to $1,001 a day, it will make almost no difference. 

Graph of log10(x) on Desmos

As you can see on the above image, at low values on the X-axis (which we can think of as income) the function (happiness as a function of income dollars) climbs rapidly, but it flattens out at higher X values (higher income). Of course, many people are aware of the famous 2010 study that showed that an annual income above $75,000 did little to nothing to increase happiness:

You can see how the “positive affect,” “not blue,” and “stress free” metrics follow a logarithmic curve, increasing steeply at lower annual incomes but flattening out around the $75,000 mark. However, a newer study from 2021 shows that happiness does increase even above this $75,000 income threshold:

Of course, happiness studies always need to be taken with a healthy (or perhaps unhealthy) grain of salt, since happiness is difficult to quantify. And these two studies also used different methodologies and metrics, so there isn’t a 1-to-1 comparison. That’s not to mention also that the 11-year gap may have seen conditions change such that having more money is more valued (2010 was still early in the great recession and anger at the wealthy for the bailouts was high; 2021 has the COVID pandemic; student debt and healthcare costs are outpacing inflation; there may have been cultural shifts, where online “influencers” make conspicuous wealth appear more desirable; the younger generation may have a different cultural meaning or connotation used for “happiness,” and so on).

Additionally, the Gross Domestic Product is not necessarily the best indicator of personal wealth among the population. Even the Consumer Price Index and Purchasing Power Parity are not without their issues as metrics for wealth. As such, I don’t know how much merit the claim that happiness has been uncoupled from money holds. But I will grant there is something to the old adage that money can’t buy happiness.

This uncoupling of happiness from material wealth is observed, Hanzi says, in that:

When people have security, good food, a nice place to live, education and okay personal relations, they begin to want more vague and immaterial things for themselves and their families, such as self-development, happiness and meaning.

And thus:

My argument is that, for society to achieve these goals, it must be qualitatively different from how society is constructed today. … its institutions must be geared towards achieving more psychological goals. More goals of the soul. [bold in original]

Hanzi calls the Nordic ideology that has given them more post-materialist values “Green Social Liberalism” (for my U.S. readers, liberalism has to be understood as being closer to the classical liberal sense) which is Social-Liberalism (parliamentarian government, market economy, publicly funded welfare) with some Green ideology mixed in (environmentalism and focus on civil society). Hanzi describes how the two main Swedish political parties, who are center-left and center-right, primarily bicker around marginal percentages of tax and immigration rates, but all (even the rightwing Sweden Democrats party) trip over themselves to defend the welfare state, social democracy, and even environmentalism, having to frame all their policy positions as defending or bolstering these institutions. Hanzi says:

In the Nordic countries of today there is no real public discourse about where society is headed, no real tug-of-war pulling in different directions. There are just superficially different varieties of Green Social Liberalism.

This is because, Hanzi says, that the Left and Right divide in politics grew out of industrial society, but we are now in a post-industrial society. People have increasingly complex identities that do not include their political party affiliation; more and more of the government is handled by bureaucracy than by elected politicians; and the old-fashion style classes (peasants, workers, bourgeoisie) have increasingly mixing interests, making it difficult to rally parties around these old categories.

Because of this, Hanzi says, the revolutionaries of old must admit defeat: there will be no socialism or left-anarchism, there will be no libertarian night-watchman state, and the villains of conservatives, things like gay rights, animal rights, and queer perspectives, are not going to be rolled back. There has been a “total victory” of Green Social Liberalism in the Nordic countries (other post-industrial countries lagging behind, but still headed in that direction), which is now a meta-ideology under which all other political ideologies are subsumed.

I can’t speak for the Nordic countries, but the United States does not seem to be nearing Green Social Liberalism. At least not culturally, even if such policies are foisted upon the country from above. It’s probably easy to think that the U.S. is close to Sweden in its attitudes toward Green and Social policies when someone reads the New York Times and only interacts with Americans at academic conferences, but the Americans who populate those spaces are not representative of most Americans. Even the center-left in the U.S. is probably to the right of the center-right in Sweden on many (if not most) issues. Couple that with the amount of corruption in U.S. politics, where giant corporations get to write (and, due to regulatory capture, enforce) the laws. My point being, I don’t know if the meta-ideology of Green Social Liberalism has arrived yet in the United States.

Chapter 2: Crisis-Revolution

Hanzi describes a new political split between the progressives and the “guardians of the old society.” The first is the class of progressives that he calls the Triple-H (which overlaps substantially with the so-called creative class): these are the hipsters (intelligentsia), hackers (techies), and hippies (artists and influencers). These people are brought together by being self-motivated accumulators and producers of cultural capital who work in the increasingly important emerging post-industrial sectors of society.

The typical (or perhaps stereotypical) person in this social stratum are “city-dwelling young women with higher education (and more gay people).” These are people, Hanzi says, that are overrepresented in vital niches within society, such as “IT, design and organizational development.” These, along with what he calls the yoga bourgeoisie (successful urban dwellers who are into things like the arts and mindfulness), work in tandem (though, perhaps, not necessarily together) to make information free, production of cultural goods central, and creativity paramount (i.e., as opposed to the material production of physical goods in an industrial society).

The “increasingly bewildered guardians of the old society” as Hanzi calls them “generally consists of the less favored people in the newly emerging social, cultural and technological hierarchies.” These are “…men, older people, lower education and rural residents.” Or, as they might call themselves in the U.S., deplorables.

Of these two new classes, Hanzi says:

If these new borders, conflicts and tensions are more subtle and have more dimensions than the class struggles of old, they are no less embittered. The trenches – and the cruel, grinding wars – are present even within each single person, even within our own bodies and minds.

The progressives, Hanzi notes, have fewer people among their ranks, but hold all the cards when it comes to cultural capital and social capital, even as financial capital is being distributed more evenly (at least in the Nordic countries).

I find what Hanzi calls the precariat (a portmanteau of precarious and proletariat) an interesting notion, especially since it applies so well to me:

For [the Triple-H people], the wage labor treadmill (and conventional work life) hinder the lives they want to live, rather than being a source of security and empowerment. … the precariat – people in economically and socially precarious situations, at the fringes or outside of the conventional labor market…once these people must give up their intrinsic motivation to stand in line for menial work, reporting in to the rigid control structures of the unemployed, or adapt to the demands of not-so-postmaterialist supporting family members, they become miserable and often dysfunctional. For them, there is no clear line between fun and work… If their higher aspirations fail, life seems to offer them very little and they are prone to falling into escapism and depression. [bold in original]

Thus, Hanzi says, these two classes – the wealthier Triple-H people and the poorer precariat – which exist as a revolving door (new Triple-H people are recruited from the precariat and can also end up back in the precariat if they become irrelevant or get cancelled) have values that align, showing how things like economic class no longer form a nucleation center for political sentiments. This is in contrast, Hanzi notes, with the majority of people who either derive meaning and security from their job or are at least able to use the proceeds of their job to support their meaning and security outside of work. It’s because of this divide, according to Hanzi, that calls for things like universal basic income by the Triple-H/precariat crowd are premature.

According to Hanzi, the U.S., as demonstrated by Trumpism, has a much more powerful cohort of the “guardians of the old society” than in many places, especially the Nordic countries. This is what accounts for the deep political polarization in the United States. He says of these conservatively minded people, however:

It is unavoidable that the discontents of globalization will run the show here and there for periods, but their political programs really have very little to offer in terms of improving people’s lives and transitioning to a new stage of societal development. They try to defend a sinking ship, and their poor policies will only make the economies subjected to them more marginalized and outcompeted… When they are done screwing up in a decade or so, there will be more leeway for political metamodernism to offer its bid.

These conservatively minded people, Hanzi says, are unqualified for what he calls the Multidimensional Crisis-Revolution, which is somewhat similar to Timothy Morton’s notion of a hyperobject: something so large and complex that our linear and shortsighted way of tackling problems is woefully inadequate. Hanzi spends several pages pointing out the ways in which technology, science, politics, economics, and culture are undergoing exponential changes, and also how these come with inherent problems (environmental problems being one of the big ones he talks about). All of these things, according to Hanzi, are beyond what the “guardians of the old society” can even comprehend, much less adequately address. He says:

Do the math – an increasing number of accelerating revolutions and crises, all cross-pollinating at an accelerating pace (the solution to the equation is “boom!” – we just don’t know if it’s fireworks or atom bombs.)

But, Hanzi advises, we shouldn’t despair. It is incumbent on us to try understanding our society as it goes through all these “revolutions and crises” so that we can find direction:

We need directions, but these directions must necessarily be of an abstract, open-ended nature. We don’t need cookbooks; we need general ideas on how to create good cookbooks, so to speak. We need stories about stories. Meta-narratives. [bold in original]

These high-minded sentiments, with the usual condescension toward the more conservative minded, is characteristic of the progressive movement going back at least as far as Woodrow Wilson. Now, I’m no conservative (at least not a social conservative), but I’m not naive enough to think that the whole world will get on board with this program, much less stick to it without corruption and abuse. If the sort of Burkean style of conservatism has one thing right, it’s that politics is much more pragmatic and contextual than idealistic, much more fluid and adaptable than rigid. In other words, good luck getting places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, India and Pakistan, Chinda and Russia, all on board with a progressive program anytime soon.

Chapter 3: In A Nutshell

What Hanzi is calling for (in a nutshell, as the chapter title says) is a progression of the Green Social-Liberalism found in the Nordic countries. A progression that goes beyond a material welfare system to one that promotes happiness in the eudaimonia sense (fulfillment of potential and purpose, not just sense-pleasures). Indeed, in the abstract, his project is very similar to that of Jason Ananda Josephson Storm in his book Metamodernism: The Future of Theory. Likewise, it also submits a vision of the future that is at odds with the one I wrote about in my Quillette article “On Pleasurable Beliefs” – he seems to think that promoting happiness will help people become more self-realized as opposed to creating a different version of consumerism where beliefs and identities are the commodities. I envy his optimism.

Hanzi tries anticipating some of the objections I might offer:

A libertarian reflex is to be wary of all attempts to create happiness by political measures (“it is not the role of the state to…”). While understandable, this reflex misses the point entirely. It is not that either states or markets (or families or civil society or individual persons) create happiness – and “if the state does it”, the individual cannot. That’s silly; a rather crude, frankly, unintelligent way to look at it. You can gear these different parts of society together well and create happy human lives – or not. Given that we already do have a public sphere and a market, we can either tweak them so that they tend to generate sustainable happiness, or we can develop them in ways so that they become oppressive and create misery. But we cannot avoid the choice.

But what he says there at the end is the point. Sure, the deontologically minded libertarian purists tend to say things like “it is not the role of the state to…” but there is a consequentialist argument as well: if we make it the role of the state to facilitate happiness, then who gets to decide what happiness is? The Catholic integralists? Why assume it’s you and your version of happiness?

And what happens to those who don’t agree with your definition of happiness? And even if we come up with some definition of happiness that works for a large majority of people, and a way of justly implementing it, giving this role to the government is almost certain to lead to malfeasance, corruption, abuse, and just good-old-fashion totalitarianism. The government is a magnet for power-hungry sociopaths, so we’re not likely to end up with a council of Triple-H philosopher kings. We’re more likely to end up with what China has – a state that controls what people can see and do using force and social credit systems in the name of “social harmony”. So, the libertarian isn’t just saying that something shouldn’t be the role of the state for some deontological reason, but that it’s a bad idea to ever make it the role of the state because it will inevitably lead to terrible consequences.

This government-run-happiness would be especially chilling if run on a large scale (at the level of federal government or even a “world government”). Something like it might be defensible if done at a community or city level where humans can have a more personal and less abstract sense of what the “common good” is (and so there is at least the possibility of escape when it goes wrong). There is nothing wrong with being a “global citizen” or caring about suffering in parts of your own country where you don’t live, but it seems like a more locally-focused attention to reducing suffering and promoting happiness nearby is both more feasible and more accountable. Why expend energy trying to save the planet when you won’t even save your neighbor?

Hanzi does address the issue of making a government that is too paternalistic or coddling. He wants to assure us that “What we are looking for is not an army of spoiled fools, incapable of taking responsibility or enduring pain.” Instead:

We are not looking for a non-acceptance of the suffering of life (which only brings more misery), but for a profound acceptance of life as it is. Psychologically speaking, we want a radical acceptance of pain, so that we can deal with it much more productively and create happier (and less miserable) lives for people and animals. But to truly accept the pain of life and deal with it, we require a lot of comfort, support, security, meaning and happiness. This is also what the “posttraumatic growth” researchers claim, i.e. the folks who look into how people gain positive, life-changing insights in the wake of personal crises.

I suppose this is where us readers might put Hanzi in the double-bind he warned us about and ask for details. Well, fortunately he offers some ideas that are a little more specific:

Political metamodernism is the rebellious act of taking this vast knowledge [of human biology, psychology, and sociology] into our hands – and to boldly shape it into usable politics, into wonderful but dangerous “social technologies” that can be used to fundamentally improve the lives of a majority of the citizens.

And, he says, this isn’t a fast or violent revolution, but one that is slower, more careful, and complete:

We take the most useful of the scientific knowledge into our hands and begin the long path of using a multiplicity of slow, open, transparent democratic processes, with the goal of reshaping all parts of society: schools, the workplace, higher education, the market, healthcare – even the personal relationships, sex lives, gender relations, worldviews and inner selves of the citizen. We are speaking about conscious and deliberate social-psychological and cultural development. [bold in original]

This can of course sound very inspiring or extremely chilling. In a way, though, it’s also somewhat of a vacuous truism, since this is always happening on its own anyway – that all parts of society are reshaped as time goes on, technologies progress, and the culture-producers of yesteryear age into obsolescence.

At the end of this chapter Hanzi does vaguely address these concerns about Adam Smith’s “man of system” who “…so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it” [Adam Smith quoted by Hanzi]. All that’s said is that the “six new forms of politics” that he discusses in the next book will set up a system of checks-and-balances to ensure that we don’t have to worry about totalitarianism.

Those six forms of politics are not elaborated here, but I’ve looked ahead at Hanzi’s next book Nordic Ideology and those six forms are as follows (pages 174-175 of Nordic Ideology):

  • Democratization Politics: Aims to create ongoing processes for developing and updating the system of governance and the quality of institutions.
  • Gemeinschaft Politics (politics of relationships and community): Aims to improve the quality of human relationships across all aspects of society.
  • Existential Politics: Aims to support all people on their life’s journey and spur inner growth, mental health and strong moral integrity.
  • Emancipation Politics: Aims to create an ongoing process of protecting citizens from all sorts of oppression, not least from the other new forms of politics.
  • Empirical Politics: Aims to evaluate all policies and institutional practices and make sure they are based on the best available evidence.
  • Politics of Theory (or narrative): Aims to create ongoing processes for developing and updating the narratives society relies upon, how it “brainwashes itself”.

So, it appears that Emancipation Politics is that check-and-balance on the other forms of politics. This, from page 294 in Nordic Ideology, would be carried out by the “Ministry of Emancipation” (similar to the Department of Antiracism proposed by Ibram X. Kendi?). The function of this new bureaucracy would be:

All forms of oppression that people experience in their lives would be gathered as data and analyzed. There would be public discussions about the interpretation of these data, and there would be an ongoing debate about what can be done to defend people, according to what rights. Human rights will no longer be enshrined and taken as religious absolutes, but be recognized for the social constructions and social deals they really are. What rights do you have, and whose obligation is it to uphold these rights, and under what circumstances? This will become an ongoing and central discussion in metamodern society. [pg. 294, Nordic Ideology]

But lets not get too ahead of ourselves. There is a long way yet to go in this book and then more before we get to this point in the next book. But, for those like me who couldn’t go without the spoiler, this is a brief look at what this system of checks-and-balances will look like according to Hanzi’s metamodernism.

Chapter 4: Possible and Necessary

First, Hanzi says that his metamodern “listening society” (listening because it listens to the needs and wants of the people) is possible. This is because of (A) technology, like the internet, and (B) the meta-ideology of Green Social Liberalism. The United States, he says, still has to achieve (B) in order to be on its way to his metamodern society, but he says that because few people are occupying this niche in the U.S. that it is a political position for the taking.

According to Hanzi, this metamodern “listening society” is one where Green Social Liberalism is the meta-ideology, but we then add to it a sort of psychological welfare system. This psychological welfare system, he says, will help people from an early age with dealing with their problems and ensuring they become good Green Social Liberals.

Second, Hanzi says that achieving his metamodern “listening society” is also necessary. This is because:

Our current form of liberal democracy and welfare deserve all the respect in the world – but they are insufficient, and we must help them evolve. If we do not, our society can be expected to face increasing problems, even to the point of collapse, as our old answers and institutions persistently fail to tackle the challenges brought by the new era.

And this is because:

As a population, we are not ready to face up to and live in the society that we ourselves have created. We are out of our depth. Or, as Robert Kegan – the Harvard adult development psychologist – has suggested, we are in over our heads. [bold in original]

Now this is a sentiment that I’ve harped on in the past: humans have not evolved the live in the world we’ve created for ourselves. The vast majority of our human evolution has been as hunter-gatherers.

In such a world, we only ever knew a maximum of around 150 people in our entire lives, and it was only those people whose testimony one had to believe; anyone else was an outsider. We had to focus on survival above all else; life wasn’t necessarily a grind, but it was a struggle, daily having to face the kinds of dangers that modern humans would find to be an infringement of their “human rights.”

Furthermore, humans did not evolve to be happy. We did not evolve to know and understand (or even have a predilection for) the truth. We evolved to survive. It’s in these conditions that our myriad cognitive biases were forged. As humans became sedentary, forming governments has been our best attempt at overcoming these devastating cognitive and social shortcomings, and that project has gone poorly for the vast majority of people throughout all of human history. And that’s being optimistic: many governments originally came into existence because of power hungry megalomaniacs who wanted to extract labor and resources for their own self-aggrandizement, not out of some altruistic (or even Hobbesian) sense of protecting the people.

This naive optimism that now, with the internet and everything we know about psychology, we got things figured out enough that we’ll know how to engineer the best society that produces the best people is ruthlessly absurd. Robespierre, Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Kim Il-sung, Fidel Castro, Pinochet, and so many others all thought the same thing, and look how well that’s gone.

Now, you may be thinking: “so are we just supposed to give up?” Well, kind of. My main issue here, though, is with the government being the arbiter of this psychological welfare system. As I said above, this just seems like a recipe for abuse and totalitarianism, no matter how many Ministries of Emancipation we erect. And the one-size-fits-all approach that is the bread-and-butter of governments would likely be stifling – when the program inevitably doesn’t work (or at least doesn’t work in the way in which it was intended), the bureaucrats and politicians will view it as (A) the implementation hasn’t been strict and doctrinaire enough, and/or (B) some cohort of reactionaries within the population are messing things up and must be harshly dealt with (since they are keeping us from achieving the morally righteous society we so deserve, which is thus our moral imperative).

An alternative (one that would appeal to the way our brains have evolved), though one that is also likely not to transpire (and has its own associated problems), is, as I said above, a refocusing on communities. I would add, too, a refocusing on family. People tend to view these things as burdens and infringements on freedom. We look down on the “townies” who never move away from where they were born; we see staying in one spot as some kind of failure. But why is this a bad thing? Why should we demand that (or even desire for) bureaucrats and administrators and politicians living hundreds of miles away (and who barely even know that you and your community exist) to come up with solutions for local, often idiosyncratic, problems? Why count on a bunch of government “professionals” to care for the people in our families and communities when we can (and arguably should) do it ourselves? And what if a family or community doesn’t want these psychological welfare specialists raising their children, are they to be forced to submit because it’s “necessary” for the functioning of our future society?

Obviously, because of our much more globally-connected world, it would be impossible and undesirable to completely bracket off every community, to become inward-looking nationalistic societies, to try achieving complete autarky, but my point is that we would likely be less worse off if we turned back to communities and families as emotional support networks, rather than making that a government institution. The economy, the sciences, technology, automation, and so on are almost certainly going to remain globalized, abstract, and bureaucratized (and probably become even more technological and interdependent in the future), and there are surely things that can be done to prepare for that (e.g., perhaps universal basic income should be on the table), but outsourcing psychological welfare to the government will inevitably lead to corruption, abuse, and totalitarianism. That’s just human nature.

What these families and communities look like doesn’t necessarily have to be mired in tradition. Same-sex parents, polyamory, human-technology relationships (not necessarily romantic, but technology sill surely become an even greater component of raising families in the future), family “co-ops” and community parenting, and so on, are all likely to be ways in which such future families and communities could organize. Others might opt for more traditional ways of doing things. Such pluralism would be one of the features of not having the one-size-fits-all decrees being promulgated by bureaucrats, administrators, and politicians.

Chapter 5: The Alternative

Chapter named after the Danish political party called The Alternative, which Hanzi holds up as a party about process rather than substance (it’s a “party about nothing”):

Instead of being based on a readymade political program, the party was formed around a set of principles and values for how to conduct good political discourse and dialogue. The party also has political content, of course, a program with things they want to change, but this was subsequently crowd sourced by its members after the party got founded. Most central to the party’s founding and organization is still how, rather than what.

Starting with the what, the party has three main issues in focus.

  • Transition to a sustainable society (drawing partly on the Transition Town movement, originally from the UK);
  • supporting entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship; and
  • changing the culture of political dialogue (as well as supporting art and culture in general).

This party’s success, Hanzi says, is because it appeals to the Triple-H and yoga bourgeoisie who hold so much of the cultural capital. While The Alternative don’t have the “listening society” on their platform (as of 2017 when the book was published), Hanzi thinks they, or a party like them, are the forerunners of just such a movement.

Hanzi spends much of the chapter extolling on the virtues of The Alternative party, pointing, for instance, to their stated debate principles, and how this ethos will allow only the most democratically-minded people climb to the top. He mentions that this optimism may be naive idealism, but doesn’t seem to give this possibility much concern. Indeed, Hanzi thinks that there is a sort of inevitability inherent within the metamodern “listening society” that he is proposing.

Even if there is currently a widespread mental resistance and difficulty to both communicating and understanding metamodernism, it has all the deeper structures of society working in its favor. The long-term game is rigged. In this way, metamodernism spreads like a virus, by hacking and hijacking the thoughts, words, practices and institutions of modern society, bit by bit sneaking its way into the program of all parties, Left, and Right. And it does not work by means of silent conspiracies – it works psycho-actively, in broad daylight, just as I am planting metamodern modes of thought in you right now, without any shame or apology.

The metamodern movement is, according to Hanzi, also a transnational movement:

To be clear, the transnational way of thinking first of all means that “metamodernists know no borders”, that the ethics and values are world-centric, or perhaps cosmo-centric. It also means that you have a general way of thinking where the nation state or region are not the primary categories of society, but rather just tools or train stations in a longer journey of the historical development of governance, of human self-organization.

It’s here that we get a glimpse of the Marxist historical materialism in metamodernist thought. Although in this case, I don’t have an issue with the notion of nation states or regions being tools. Governments do not have any deontological moral value. A government is only as good as what it can do for people; it is (or at least ought to be) purely functional. Nobody should die for their government, only for whatever it is that their government is erected to uphold. If a government no longer functions properly, then just like a tool, it should either be fixed or replaced.

I think the conflation of government and country is both common and pernicious. A country is something set up based on cultural traditions, political and economic ideals, and a shared narrative or sense of “we” among the inhabitants. A government is (or should be) only there to function as a mediator in order to avoid the horrors of honor culture and uphold dignity culture.

That said, national and regional borders are also functional (i.e., useful fictions). Humans just are cliquish and hierarchical creatures. Having open borders is likely to cause more chaos than it fixes (i.e., it would fix “border crises” by removing the borders instead of the crises). Are borders a deontologically valuable thing? Certainly not. If humans were angels, then erasing borders would be the moral ideal. But humans are not angels, so it’s not ideal.

And, once again, my objection that we should adopt something closer to communitarianism instead of the one-size-fits-all approach of governments with larger and larger scopes: borders delineate and demarcate the limitations of a government’s scope. If anything, we should be shrinking the purview of our governments, devolving larger national entities into smaller and more autonomous regions. We will still want states with a large scope in order to adjudicate disagreements and conflicts among these smaller states, but the number of functions carried out by these massive, remote, overly bureaucratic, and wasteful state entities should be reduced and minimized as much as possible. More of these responsibilities should be in the hands of smaller regional governments where (A) each person’s vote counts as more, since there are fewer voters in more localized elections, and (B) the governments can be more accountable to their people, since they will be composed of people who have lived in much closer proximity (and therefore also share more similar cultural values). That in the U.S. so much attention is paid to the president is a symptom of the illness of over-centralization. Ideally, everyone would know who their mayor is and what they are up to and only once in a while hear anything about the president.

Hanzi goes on to describe what he calls the Metamodern Aristocracy:

The metamodern aristocracy are people who have a combination of factors in their psychological, existential and cognitive constitutions that allow them to play a certain role on the new historical world stage…

What we are looking for is a nicer, softer, more nuanced and flexible form of Leninism, avant-garde, or vanguard, of people who recognize and align with some deep structures and long-term attractors of our age, and who cooperate transnationally to bring about profound changes in global society.


The Leninist idea of a global, progressive movement with its own power playing, radical vanguard is not all bad. The vanguard just need a much clearer understanding of the development of society, and of developmental psychology, than what Lenin and his contemporaries had. And we need a code of ethics that they lacked – starting with non-violence and a commitment to understand, empathize and listen to others.

This is more of that naivete that says: “if we just put the right people in charge, it will work this time!” Like every revolutionary throughout history who couldn’t change their mind and wouldn’t change the subject, we’re told that this time it’s going to be run by a truly enlightened leadership (i.e., Metamodern Aristocracy) who will do everything right this time around.

These truly enlightened people, according to Hanzi, are people at the vanguard of the “process party” (e.g., The Alternative), they have high total capital (social, cultural, economic, emotional,  and sexual capital as well as good health) and effective value meme (essentially meaning having progressive values), and:

These people [the Metamodern Aristocrats] are armed with more advanced and updated conceptual maps of the world than the average member of the process oriented party. The metamodern aristocracy is teaming up worldwide and conspiring to change the functioning of the global world-system. They are “hacking the world-soul”, as it were, injecting doses of metamodern DNA into key areas of society, hijacking political, economic and cultural systems of modern life in order to bring about a more fair, transparent, sustainable and caring future. [bold in original]

Hanzi assures us, however, that the metamodern aristocracy are not authoritarians, but are instead moving us toward the “listening society” in an open and “democratic” way. By writing books, making art, and influencing the culture in subtle ways they “tickle the dialectic to see what emerges…” Indeed, Hanzi exhorts his readers to drop the whole project if they plan to make it violent or coercive:

But if it ever comes to killing anyone or doing anything else nasty and harmful in the name of these ideas, just forget about it. Put away the book, forget I told you about this and disown the whole thing. We’re exploring ideas. We’re being open-minded and curios [sic] about the potentials. But we are not laying down “the one true path”, and if it ever leads us in the direction of killing, lying, cheating, torturing – we need to drop it and think again. It’s not worth it. And if my ideas press you towards such conclusions, we can be certain I was mistaken all along.

If such a revolution occurs without violence, that would be a first in human history. The odds are against it.

Chapter 6: Political Philosophy

Hanzi begins by talking about how the notion of the individual is a fiction that was used as a solution to a problem: society being conceived as either collectivism or individual processes. The individual, Hanzi says, let us say that all the societal processes are instantiated within every individual, so that every process comes together into a whole.

In the metamodern society, however, we have to rethink our notion of the individual. Instead, Hanzi says, we should think of people as Deleuziandividuals” and therefore take a “transpersonal perspective.” This, at its core, is essentially the doctrine that who we are is socially constructed, that we cannot think of ourselves as isolated systems that “interact” like billiard balls, but instead “intra-act” with one another in a sort of recursive co-creation via Hegelian acknowledgement. Thus, humans should be conceived of as transindividuals (not to be confused with transgender individuals, though the two I assume are not meant to be mutually exclusive). The transindividual is not like the Übermensch or a transhuman, but a new way of conceiving every person.

To the metamodern activist, the rights and interests of the transindividual are seen as much deeper, more real and more important than the rights of the individual. Just like modern society scrapped the rights of the clan or the family in favor of the individual, we are now scrapping the individual in favor of the much more morally entitled and more analytically valid transindividual.

The idea of the listening society serves the transindividual: The human being is seen as more than a unique, separate life story. The idea of the transindividual sees the human being as inseparable from her language, her deep unconscious, her relations, roles, societal positions, values, emotions, developmental psychology, biological organism and so forth. Each human being is viewed as an open and social process, a whirlwind of participation and co-creation of society. Society as a whole is viewed as a self-organizing system which creates such transindividuals who are in turn able to recreate society.

From this transpersonal perspective, according to Hanzi, we cannot be satisfied with single-cause explanations for why people do things (such as terrorists, with him using the Norwegian neo-Nazi Anders Behring Breivik as an example), since everything that happens in a person’s life makes them who they are. This is Hanzi’s justification for why the metamodern “listening society” is needed: if we can make happier and more self-actualized people, then such atrocities would be much less likely to happen.

This transpersonal perspective also means having to take a “view from complexity” – with complexity to be understood in the context of systems theory, network theory, and emergence. Hanzi references the Schelling simulation and its consequences for racism in society as an emergent property.

Agents will move at each step until the fraction of neighbors that are from their own group is greater than or equal to Ba. For equal sized populations, Ba ≥ Bseg ≈ 1/3 leads to the groups segregating themselves. (Source: Wikipedia)

In other words, even just a small amount of unconscious racial bias (preference of having ≥1/3 all nearby spaces being occupied by the same color) can lead to the emergent property of self-segregation:

The paper where the above figure comes from explains the figure:

Each row corresponds to a single simulation experiment and contains a sequence of images depicting the city’s residential distribution at four points in the experiment. Ethnic segregation is seen visually when households of different colors (i.e., blue, red, and green) cluster together on the city landscape. In addition, a quantitative segregation index—the variance ratio (V)—is computed for each of the three possible two-group comparisons.i The scores are plotted in the graph on the right-hand side of the figure. Socioeconomic segregation is seen visually based on high-income households being depicted in darker shades and low-income households in lighter shades. Accordingly, the central areas are lighter and the outlying areas are darker. Socioeconomic segregation is not our main focus, so we have omitted quantitative results to save space.

The key feature of the simulations is that we vary in-group preference targets assigned to households from levels substantially below those documented in surveys (e.g., 20%) to levels similar to those documented in surveys (e.g., 40–60%) and beyond.j Several important patterns are evident in the results. One is that ethnic segregation is low at the beginning of every simulation; not surprising because it primarily reflects random departure from even distribution. Another is that ethnic segregation emerges quickly and stabilizes at high levels when preferences for same-group contact are similar to those documented in surveys. The crucial transition occurs when preference targets reach or exceed a group’s population representation (22). Thus, high levels of segregation emerge when targets for same-group contact shift from 20% to 40%. Segregation is low when households seek 20% same-group contact because all households can be satisfied in neighborhoods that match the city’s ethnic mix. This is not the case when all households seek 40% same-group contact; accordingly, high levels of segregation emerge. Perhaps surprising to some, raising targets for same-group contact to even higher levels has minimal additional impact on the overall level of segregation or the speed with which it emerges. This is anticipated by previous studies (2, 10, 11, 12, 22) that note that, once certain critical thresholds are crossed, preferences tend to drive local areas toward homogeneity.

Hanzi also paints a picture of how a sort of Darwinian natural (sexual?) selection leads to body image issues in women: if images of attractive women in advertisements cause even a slight increase in revenue for the firms that use them, those firms will outcompete the ones that do not use such images, and so we are left with firms that are willing to use attractive women in their advertisements. But, out of those, the ones that use even more sexualized attractive women will win out, continuing on until we are left with airbrushed images of scantily clad women with bodies impossible to achieve for the typical woman, who then feels ashamed for not being able to live up to those impossible standards.

The main takeaway is that it takes only minimal amounts of these sorts of unconscious biases in enough people for there to be a disproportionate emergent phenomena like self-segregation and body image issues in women. Thus, Hanzi concludes, things like racism and sexism can’t be eradicated by going after a few bad actors or even by rooting it out of institutional policies.

To the metamodernist, there are almost no bad-guys left, nobody and nothing to blame; not even an impersonal structure. With the view from complexity, there is only the painstaking tweaking of many small things that can help fix the failures of our society and mitigate the tragedies of existence.

To address these problems, we need to move beyond the Left-Right divide in politics. Hanzi says that to do this we need a reintegration of the bureaucratic, market, and civil spheres that were separated with the advent of modernity. This will also need an integration of solidarity, trade, and competition; of equality, freedom, and order.

To get over our Left-Right political view – where one is always right and the other always wrong – we need to be aware of our own limitations, Hanzi says:

Looking around us, we see so many other people who harbor obviously false or preposterous ideas and perspectives. If we zoom out for a moment, looking at ourselves from the outside, it suddenly seems highly unlikely that the particular story about reality that this particular person is telling herself – this organism in this particular species, in this particular time, in this particular position in the world, at this particular point of its lifespan – would be especially correct, scientific, ethical, universal and sane.

And with this in mind, Hanzi says, we can overcome the linear thinking of the Left-Right paradigm:

The point is that everybody already is like you – a very limited, vulnerable, hurt, single human being with almost infinite distortions and blind spots, working from within the narrow frames of her emotions, intellect and experience.

What, then, can we trust? … We must trust that if enough people break their ideas and emotional investments against one another, on average, and over time, something better…can come out of it.

In other words, we can partake of non-linear politics, where we simply know that whatever we think we are working for is going to turn out to be something entirely different and that we are going to need the best possible democratic processes for this dialectic to play out successfully.

Hanzi calls those who still think in the Left-Right paradigm the “liberal innocent” – but not innocent in that they are not blameworthy, but innocent in being ignorant, naive, and unaware of the harm they are causing. The Left-Right paradigm, according to Hanzi, is a holdover from the industrial age where party lines were drawn based on class conflict. But now, in our post-industrial society, these barriers are breaking down as a result of a contradiction inherent in liberal democracy itself:

So when democracy begins to fulfill its promise of a people ruling itself through deliberation – it ironically wrecks the whole game that we know as party politics, around which our democratic system is built, because the necessary party division interests break down. By its dialectic development, by the logic of its own productive contradictions, liberal democracy cancels itself.

In this strange new state of affairs we have every reason to engage i an open-ended, democratic dialogue and deliberation with one another – to do “real” democracy, more according to the classical and Habermasian ideals.

He says, then, that we need to call for the “death of liberal innocence.”

Liberal democracy begins to reveal that it never worked in the first place. The different positions we are offered within its game of party politics no longer make any deeper sense.

That is – you can no longer be innocently Left or Right, no longer believe that you’re the good guy and that other positions are false, because it is becoming apparent that the real action happens in the honest deliberation between your position and theirs.

There is something endearing, almost cute, about being so blinded by the current forms of liberal democracy, that you think you can take one position within it, and it just so happens to be the right one. … Modern people are “religious” [in that] they believe that the people born and raised in their position in society have the “correct” beliefs and values; that the truth is somehow dependent on where you are situated on a sociological map. [bold in original]


It is a question of choosing totality over partiality. Partiality is only possible if you believe in the liberal innocent. Once you choose totality, once you begin to see society as a whole, liberal innocence is lost. [bold in original]

There is a bit that I agree with here, but also some places I diverge. Party politics, I would agree, are shortsighted and pernicious. It results in things like strategic voting for the “lesser of two evils” and having to tolerate a bunch of ideological baggage that comes with a candidate since there aren’t choices narrow enough to align with most of a person’s beliefs. I think this leads to one of two things: (1) political fatigue, since everything in politics is just frustrating and exhausting; (2) regression to the party’s mean, where people take on beliefs as part of their identity in order to fit in with their party.

However, parties are also very human. Party politics are not an intrinsic part of democracy, but arose because of the way humans are constituted. I understand that in some places, elections are when people vote for parties (like in Sweden where the authors are from), but it does not have to be that way. Indeed, the founders of the United States wanted badly to avoid “factions” in their politics. But, humans being human, such “factions” almost immediately emerged, anyway, in the form of political parties.

This ends the first of two parts in this book. Next it examines psychological development.

Part Two: Psychological Development

Hanzi gives the following guide for Part Two:

  • Chapter 7: stage theories of development in general
  • Chapters 8 and 9: cognitive development
  • Chapter 10 and 11: what he calls “coding” or “symbolic toolkit”
  • Chapters 12 and 13: lived experience “states”
  • Chapters 14 and 15: “existential depth” or “wisdom”
  • Chapters 16 and 17: bringing it all together in his political-psychological theory of “effective value meme”

Chapter 7: On Stage Theories

Developmental stages necessarily entail that there are some stages that are “more developed” than other stages. Hanzi is sensitive to this and wants to ensure us that the hierarchies intrinsic to developmental stage theories is not a moral hierarchy. He gives the following eight principles for us to remember as we go through these chapters on developmental theories:

  1. Non-Judgement: keeping in mind that people being in higher or lower stages of development in one of the four categories (cognitive, cultural coding, subjective states, and depth) is not reflective of people being better or worse
  2. Not a Moral Order: people higher stages of development don’t have more moral value (e.g., adults don’t have more moral value than children)
  3. Natural and Dominator Hierarchies: keep in mind that there are natural hierarchies and unnatural ones used to justify oppression. Developmental hierarchies, Hanzi says, are natural; dominator hierarchies try make themselves appear to have the “three N’s” – Natural, Normal, Necessary
  4. Does Not Transmit: the hierarchies don’t transmit to irrelevant areas, like getting tax breaks or discounts
  5. Humility: hierarchies should increase openness and humility toward other perspectives
  6. Different Dimensions: although there is some interdependence between the four dimensions of development, someone could be higher than you on one but lower on another
  7. Sensitivity: keep in mind that people will have feelings associated with whether they are higher or lower in their developmental stage(s)
  8. Not All There Is: there is much more to a person than their developmental stage(s)

Other things Hanzi wants to remind us: stages, after adolescence, are not necessarily correlated with age. A person can reach a stage in early adulthood and stay there the rest of their life. Stages are also not personalities, or a means of diagnosing psychopathology. All personalities and people with different psychopathologies go through the developmental stages (though there are some psychopathologies that might stunt development, while others might even spur it ahead).

A stage, according to Hanzi:

is an equilibrium at a certain degree of complexity, a form of self-supporting balance within your mind, brain, and organism – located with an open system of continuously ongoing interactions with the environment.

Changes of stage usually happen in relatively short leaps that bridge more stable and longer periods of equilibrium. But such stage changes are relatively rare in the lives of adult human beings. [bold and italics in original].

What the different stages mean, Hanzi says, is having “…more advanced ways of reasoning, partaking in more complex behaviors – and perhaps even be[ing] more emotionally mature and existentially profound…” This should not be misconstrued as having more skills, as someone could be better at something like sports or cooking or playing an instrument even if they are at a lower stage (even if someone at a higher stage might have the potential to become better at such things). In the big picture, moving up through the developmental stages means:

You go from simple black-and-white thinking, to complex and nuanced thinking, and from there to finding new simplicities in the form of underlying, universal, guiding principles: toward what you might call a “second simplicity”.

Some examples of developmental stage theories (some of which are discussed in this book) are by the following people:

Essentially what Hanzi is going to do in the rest of the book is explicate Michael Commons’ Model of Hierarchical Complexity (MHC) developmental model for the cognitive development, then try to come up with models for the cultural coding, states, and depth using ideas from the other developmental models, and then bring it all together in his “effective value memes” theory, which he says is an improved version of Clare Graves’ Spiral Dynamics model.

Chapter 8: Cognitive Development

The Model of Hierarchical Complexity is a neo-Piagetian theory that, essentially, adds new stages onto the classical Piagetian stages.

Whereas the Model of Hierarchical Complexity gives the following stages:

Hanzi notes that this model can be applied to non-humans as well. Indeed, newborn baby humans actually begin at stage 3, the others ones being passed through in utero (and in fact, according to Hanzi, stage 0 applies to molecules, like DNA, and stage 1 is cells). Hanzi’s list in the book also only goes up to stage 15 (as some do) because he says in the notes that he doesn’t think there is enough evidence to support the existence of the final stage; I have also seen other charts that only go up to 14. So there is apparently some wiggle room for how many stages there actually are, though between 14 and 16 is the norm.

According to Hanzi, only some of the most intelligent animals, such as bonobo chimpanzees (he specifically names ones studied by Frans de Waal), ever get up to stage 9 (concrete). Around 30% of humans only ever get up to stage 10 (abstract), with 40% at stage 11 (formal), 20% at stage 12 (systematic), and 1.5% at stage 13 (metasystematic) – these four stages (10, 11, 12, and 13) are what will be examined more deeply in the next chapter. The other two he lists – paradigmatic and crossparadigmatic – he says there is no reliable test for these stages.

I tried looking for something to corroborate these percentages but Hanzi does not supply us with any references. The best I could find was in the 2016 Featherston et al. paper that says:

Commons, Miller, and Giri (2014) report that 20% of educated adults reach Systematic Stage 12 (one stage beyond Formal Stage 11), with an additional 1.5% reaching Metasystematic Stage 13. [Featherston et al., 2016]

The paper cited in the above quote (Commons, Miller, and Giri, 2014) shows how the rate of advancement in stage reduces with age:

Equations in the above figure are based on Tuladhar & Commons, 2014; the β1 parameter is the slope, which corresponds with long-term accumulation of “training” in complex tasks – getting 20% more “training” than average starting at an early age (represented by the top solid line, with 1.2β1 in the formula) results in a stage significantly higher later in life.

What I don’t see is a list of percentages of adults at different stages. Perhaps it can be obtained by the following figure:

But I don’t have the patience to do it.

Hanzi notes that although this model takes non-human animals into account, there are things that humans can do that animals can’t, primarily language, which is due to genetics, which is often what a lot of these stage theories are testing, making them “speciesist.” The way that language adds another dimension of development to humans is covered in Hanzi’s symbol-stage model.

Additionally, being at the same stage doesn’t say anything about moral value or behavior. Even if an insect and a human newborn are both at stage 3, we wouldn’t say they have equal moral value. And even if some humans are at stage 8, along with chimps, the former can behave well while the latter can be very violent. It’s only the possible complexity of the thoughts and behaviors that are accounted for by this model.

Hanzi also differentiates between what is called horizontal and vertical complexity, where these stages study the latter.

What we are comparing now is horizontal complexity and vertical complexity. Horizontal complexity is simply a measure of how many calculations you have to make (how many yes-no questions you manage to answer). So this is basically how quick and efficient your brain is. A human newborn has much greater horizontal complexity than an adult parrot, even while being at a lower stage. But then again, a computer can have greater horizontal complexity than a human (while still being at a stage 0 Computational).

IQ-tests will primarily measure horizontal complexity. given that the test taker is at a certain minimum stage so that they can actually take the test. The more difficult of these tests can include questions at stage 12 Systematic, but not really above that. Most of all, they measure how easily you recognize relatively simple patterns. Obviously, IQ (or “g factor”) is not unimportant, and “intelligence” should perhaps be seen as a combination of horizontal and vertical complexity. [bold and italics in original]

What Commons, Miller, & Giri (2014) say is that vertical complexity is the number of nested sub-tasks within the overall task while horizontal complexity is being able to produce solutions to multiple tasks of the same level of complexity.

There are two main forms of stage change, which are developmental advances in behavior. Horizontal décalage refers to fact that once a certain task of a given order may be completed correctly in one task sequence, it is not necessarily initially completed correctly in another task sequence. In Baylor’s (1975) words, “a horizontal décalage arises when a cognitive structure that can be successfully applied to task X cannot, though it is composed of the same organization of logical operations, be extended to task Y.” One kind of stage change, therefore, is simply learning to apply a set of actions learned in one domain to another set of actions, at a similar order of hierarchical complexity, in another domain. Most developmental advances in behavior are of the horizontal form. In contrast, there is also real stage change, also sometimes called vertical décalage. [Commons, Miller, & Giri (2014)]

As a loose illustration: an order n+2 task might be, for instance, interpreting a paragraph, which is composed of sentences at the n+1 level and words at the n-level. And so, Hanzi says we can think about the vertical (MHC) vs horizontal (IQ) in the following way:

Basically, you can imagine a pyramid, where different people create original thoughts and behaviors at different heights. The organisms at higher cognitive stages can then master taller pyrmaids – and high IQ people can master broader ones.

Additionally, the same paper from above (Commons, Miller, & Giri) has this to say about how to advance up another stage:

From our perspective, there are two main factors necessary to developmentally advance behavior. They are conceptually separable but both are necessary. First is that there has to be a capacity to change. Second, the environment must be supportive of change.

  1. There must be a “capacity” to change. This may be represented most compactly by Pascual-Leone‘s (1970) suggestion that to solve a problem at order N, there has to be a working memory of 2N. This is what is termed capacity. This means that there are limits to what the environment produces in development at any age. … Capacity is assessed by finding where in a developmental sequence the organism is performing. There is ideal capacity. Ideal capacity is what would develop if the environment were perfectly tuned to maximize development. Capacity is also dynamic, changing with age and experience.
  2. There must be contingent reinforcement for engaging in the task. There are [three] parts to this.
    • First, the task has to be appropriate for where the organism is performing in the sequence of tasks. For a task to be appropriate, it has to have some reasonable probability of being completed successfully. This requires first that the task is correctly placed in the developmental sequence.
    • Second, the organism has to be functioning at that place in the sequence. One can overwhelm a student by giving tasks that are too much above the present stage at which they are functioning. One can bore a student by giving them work they already do perfectly.
    • [Third], there must be some kind of reinforcing consequence that ensues from the completion of the task. The reinforcement is conceived of in much broader terms than what behavior analysts generally use. Reinforcement can include task mastery, which is set up by the drive of being interested, which is usually described as curiosity. Reinforcement may also be social recognition and attention.

Commons, Miller, & Giri (2014)

Hanzi says that about two thirds (67%) of your IQ score is reflective of your MHC stage. He also says that people in organizations like Mensa and the Triple Nine Society are often not the people “changing the world” with new inventions because they are often stuck at stage 11 Formal or stage 12 Systematic (Commons, Miller, and Giri, 2014).

He cites (but doesn’t discuss) Featherston et al., 2016, which looked at gifted people in Belgium (“The mean IQ of the sample was 121.34 (SD=12.497), well above the population mean of 100”) and gave them several intelligence tests:

Participants were given the French edition of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale—Fourth Edition (WAIS–IV). The WAIS–IV includes four indices and a Full Scale IQ (FSIQ) score (Wechsler, 2008). The indices are the VCI [Verbal Comprehension Index], the Perceptual Reasoning Index, the Working Memory Index, and the Processing Speed Index. The test is based on theories of cognitive abilities, with the four indices posited to make up some of the major factors that influence g, with full-scale IQ approximating the g factor. [Featherston et al., 2016]

In this study, the authors wanted to assess how well the MHC stages corresponded with the difficulty of tasks on an IQ test, namely the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) version IV. An issue with IQ tests, the authors of the paper note, is that they don’t tell you a priori how difficult certain questions on the test are; the difficulty is only determined a posteriori after seeing how many people get it right vs. get it wrong, which doesn’t tell you why a certain question is difficult. The MHC does not take the content of a question into account, only the hierarchical complexity (how many nested “tasks” are needed to successfully complete the overall problem). The authors found an r = 0.666, where r is the correlation coefficient (ranges between -1, where there is a perfect anti-correlation {X goes up, Y goes down}, to 1, where there is a perfect direct correlation {X goes up, Y goes up}) – in other words, how much the MHC stage correlated with the difficulty of IQ “items” (questions on an IQ test).

When “word rarity” was accounted for (which is how well someone could define a word that rarely appears, which is a measure of someone’s knowledge rather than capacity to perform complex mental tasks, and is therefore part of the “cultural bias” aspect of IQ tests) this increased the correlation coefficient to r = 0.778, which indicates that IQ tests also test for “cultural” knowledge:

Additionally, it became apparent in scoring the items that one of the factors that would affect the difficulty of the items would be how rare the words being tested were. The variable of rarity predicted the difficulty of items to a lesser degree than the OHC [Order of Hierarchical Complexity, i.e., what stage someone occupies]. This appears to be a flaw of the IQ test as a measure of ability because rarity was simply a measure of how likely the participants were to be exposed to those words. Undoubtedly, retention of knowledge plays a role in “smarts,” but knowledge of rare words is extremely dependent on a participant’s past history with a particular set of words. A person’s knowledge of rare vocabulary words or facts is not something that will necessarily be a good predictor of success. Knowing rare things likely does not greatly affect a person’s ability to succeed in jobs or other aspects of life and is often not what evaluators are trying to understand about a participant when assessing cognitive ability. [Featherston et al., 2016]

Hanzi asserts that both IQ and MHC have about a 70% hereditary component. While this seems (roughly) to be the case for IQ (see here), I haven’t been able to find anything on the heredity of MHC development or how much genetics determines a person’s MHC stage. Hanzi does not supply a citation for his claim about the hereditary component of MHC, so I’m not sure how to judge the veracity of the assertion.

Chapter 9: The Important Stages

In this chapter, Hanzi looks closer at stage 10 (Abstract), stage 11 (Formal), stage 12 (Systematic), and stage 13 (Metasystematic), which he reiterates covers about 90% of the adult population.

Stage 10: Abstract

30% of adults fall in this stage.

Whereas stage 9 (Concrete) allows us to tell narratives (A happened at time X, then B happened at time Y, and then C happened and time Z, and all fit into a narrative named N), once in stage 10, a person can make abstractions (generate new concepts, not just ones already handed to them) and quantify those abstractions (what does the overall narrative mean? What is it about? What is the theme?).

A person at stage 10 can engineer a concept about, say, how difficult something is to do, and then quantify things as “having” more or less of this concept. A person at stage 10 can modify their concept when confronted with new information – say that something is difficult even if it ranks low on your difficulty concept, then the concept can be modified.

A few of the things that Hanzi names as instances of stage 10 thinking are:

  • Writing a conclusion in an essay that ties the whole thing together.
  • Pointing out a common denominator in a few different stories.
  • Non-investigative journalism: reporting events and abstracting what “the story” is.
  • Creating a map, or reading one without assistance.

The stage 10 person, however, may have a difficult time relating two abstract concepts or identifying a rule that holds between both of them. This can lead to black-and-white and either-or and single-cause type thinking: things like “all people of race X are bad” or “we can either have freedom or we can have the government” or “human greed is the cause of all our problems”. Such people might have a difficult time grasping nuance (for instance, that not every member of a racial group is representative of the entire group) or trade-offs (for instance, if a hospital cuts costs by having fewer printers, that reduces effective work hours since people have to walk further to print something).

Hanzi says, for all stages, there is a complexity bias:

Complexity bias means that we intuitively prefer forms of reasoning that correspond to our own stage of complexity. Explanations of lower complexity seem crude and simplistic to us, whereas higher stage explanations seem vague and counter-intuitive.

Stage 11: Formal

40% of adults fall in this stage.

People in stage 11 are able to come up with rules that describe the relationships between abstract variables and reason thus: if X under conditions P, then Y. Additionally, if there are variables X, Y, and Z but someone only knows X and Z, they can reason about Y (Hanzi describes this as being able to “see around corners”).

A person in stage 11 is no longer bound to the simplistic black-and-white / either-or thinking, but can now think in terms of and/or/if. If a task is difficult because of the concept A (Hanzi uses the roughness of a cliff making it difficult to climb) and concept B (Hanzi uses steepness) the person in stage 11 can know that there is a trade-off, where at perfectly vertical, then roughness would actually make the climb easier (there are things to hold onto). Thus: if rough, then difficult can be turned into if rough and steep, then easier (it doesn’t have to be that rough always equals more difficult).

A few of the things that Hanzi names as instances of stage 11 thinking are:

  • Writing a conclusion in an essay that ties the whole thing together and fruitfully compares it to other texts.
  • Pointing out the patterns of how plotlines evolve in stories of different genres and explaining the logic to why this is so.
  • Economic journalism: how businesses are affected by changes in the economy, etc.
  • Creating a map, and providing correct instructions on how to read it.

People in this stage, Hanzi says, still tend to be very linear in their thinking. They often still cling to single answers to things: Hanzi uses the example that those who buy fully into libertarianism or socialism are likely to be at this stage.

Stage 12: Systematic

20% of adults fall in this stage.

As the stage name suggests, this is systematic thinking: being able to break something down into multiple variables (e.g., three or more), or to take multiple variables and synthesize them into a general rule. Hanzi says that this is the level at which one would have to be in order to come up with Darwin’s theory of evolution (though he says Darwin was likely higher than 12). It is also the stage at which “catch-22” and feedback loop systems can be independently recognized or invented

A few of the things that Hanzi names as instances of stage 12 thinking are:

  • Writing a conclusion in an essay which criticizes and goes beyond the thinking presented in other comparable essays (teaching at university level, I can say that only a few students manage to do this, even among the ones who study very hard).
  • Inventing a new form of plotline or genre within literature.
  • Critical investigative journalism: being able to see cracks and loopholes in the system and putting these in focus.
  • Providing instructions for creating good maps and how to provide instruction for reading them.

At this stage Hanzi says, people are only able to think in terms of one system at a time and will therefore try to apply the same system-thinking to systems that don’t work the same. This would be observed, for instance, in how people might try to account for too much in a theory, even if all the variables don’t connect (think, for instance, of the nature vs. nurture debate where the former wants to fit everything into a biological theory while the latter wants to fit everything into a social construction theory).

Stage 13: Metasystematic

1.5-2% of adults fall in this stage.

At this stage multiple systems can be evaluated and assessed for what Hanzi calls alignment:

So we have added a term, alignment, to describe the system as a whole. Let’s expand that term: How much can you adjust the different variables so as to increase their alignment? We are now introducing an invented meta-systematic term: alignability.

[Think of] the market economy. Each of its parts is [very] dependent on the other parts. THings like supply, demand, distribution systems, and legal frameworks change all the time. Because of the market system’s high alignability, it aligns into value-creating (and thereby behaviorally self-sustaining) equilibria all the time.

He also gives some possible examples of “metasystematic reasoning about politics” for different points of view. Here are just a few of them:

  • Conservative argument: Liberal values [in the classical liberal sense] prevalent in Western countries may be more functional in late modern society than the more traditionalist values of Arab Muslims, but for the successful integration of these different cultures one must take the perspective of all parties seriously.
  • Libertarian argument: State control and policy implementation always interact with other societal systems and are dependent upon these for their successful functioning. It is thus important to carefully weight state regulation and policy against other possibilities: markets, culture, and civil sphere. State regulation is often not the best path ahead.
  • Green argument: The logic inherent to the economic system is fundamentally alien to the logic of the ecosystems of the many biotopes. This means that there is no self-regulation feedback cycle directly present between our economic and technologogical expansion and the ecosystems upon which we depend. This lack of feedback means that we have to drive the ecosystem to collapse before the market self-adjusts. We must thereby create some other feedback, e.g. by means of policy, public awareness or cultural development.

Hanzi notes that these (and the other ones he proposes that I didn’t quote here) have much in common, which he says is important for metamodern politics.

In the notes, by the way, the authors claim the “Hanzi” is at stage 14, though is of average IQ.

Hanzi describes two phenomena associated with what I might call inter-stage communications. He calls them downward assimilation and scaffolding. The former is the way in which lower-stage people appropriate the ideas produced by higher-stage people, but often using them in ways that fit their own stage (i.e., they assimilate them to their own stage’s way of thinking). Hanzi doesn’t use this example, but a way this might be observed is when people took Darwin’s idea of evolution and applied it to the different races of people in order to rationalize calling some “superior” and others “inferior” even though the theory of evolution says nothing about superiority or inferiority (notions from a lower stage of thinking applied to the higher-stage theory of evolution).

Scaffolding is essentially the converse, where people of higher stages can help people of lower stages move up to higher stages:

It is possible, namely, through the means of language and communicative actions, to support someone’s cognitive stage upwards…

Language structures seem to be able to help us more than a bit. That’s largely how education works. But it usually takes long hours of interaction with people who are of higher stage than ourselves and who really walk us through the correct sequences again and again.

He also exhorts us to remember:

Higher cognitive stage folks aren’t necessarily “right” about things. If you have kids, you may have noticed how surprisingly often these keep little creatures can correct us, in spite of their “lower” cognitive stage. And again, stage doesn’t mean skill – you still have to learn things from others even if you have higher cognitive stage.

This theory – the Model of Hierarchical Complexity (MHC) – is an interesting one. Psychology is not one of my strong suits as a scholarly subject, but even just looking at some of the papers myself while reading this book it appears compelling. It would be interesting to see more neuropsychology studies and how the different stages correlate with brain structure and function (Hanzi says that there isn’t much scholarship in this department as it pertains to MHC). But, given that I’m not an expert, I am not in a position to dismiss or criticize MHC. If any readers know of any good criticisms (or supports), I would be interested.

Chapter 10: Symbolic Development

Why is it that an 14-year-old can figure out how to record, edit, and upload a Youtube video, but Isaac Newton couldn’t? Is the modern 8-year-old smarter than Newton? This seems pretty obvious: Isaac Newton didn’t have computers available to him. How could someone use a technology that didn’t yet exist, much less be good at it?

Now, then, how come Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century genius philosopher and theologian, couldn’t come up with Newton’s gravitational equation? The reason, Hanzi says, isn’t that people in the past are stupider than people in the future. The reason is that the “code” of the times is at a higher version. Just like how Newton couldn’t make Youtube videos because the technology wasn’t available to him, Aquinas couldn’t come up with Newton’s equation for gravitation because the linguistic/symbolic code for such an undertaking wasn’t available to him.

Once Newton came up with his famous equation for gravity, that entered into the societal code such that anyone can then learn it. It took a genius like Newton to come up with it, but now that we have it in the societal code, a 14-year-old can learn it. We are able to inherit or “download” the code invented by our forebears.

Hanzi makes the analogy that our MHC stage is like the hardware and the structures of language and memes (in the sense first posed by Dawkins, not the top-text-bottom-text pictures shared on social media) is the software. Aquinas may have had a stage 15 MHC hardware, but he had to work with the software available at his time. We now have the benefit of the software written with the code the Newton invented freely available to us.

Hanzi also says there are what he calls metamemes, which the link (to Hanzi’s website) says are:

A metameme is a collection of interconnected, mutual dependent, non-arbitrary memes. “Metameme” is thus an overarching term for groups of other memes that helps us understanding the relation of one meme to another. (With “meme”, I’m not referring to the illustrated jokes kids pass around on social media these days, but rather the original idea proposed by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene from 1976.) One of my major theses in The 6 Hidden Patterns of History: A Metamodern Guide to World History is that memes come bundled in non-randomly ordered collections of developmentally determined “umbrella” memes constituting overarching stages. It’s these umbrella memes that I have chosen to dub “metamemes”.

An analogy that came to my mind, in sticking to the computer metaphor, is that metamemes are kind of like the operating system, which determines what software we are able to run. Or, perhaps, its the database or GitHub containing all the “memes” there are to download.

These metamemes are what Hanzi has developed into his Marxian historical materialism, where history has followed a dialectical trajectory that Hanzi calls realdialektik:

The seven metamemes or “symbol-stages” are:

  • A – Archaic: Earliest humans and their closest relatives, Neanderthals, etc.
  • B – Animistic (or “Post”-Archaic): The magical and ritualistic thinking of tribal society.
  • C – Faustian: The mythical thinking of agricultural warrior society, Neolithic and onwards.
  • D – “Post”-Faustian: The mythic-rational, transcendental thinking of traditional, religious society.
  • E – Modern: The rational, scientific thinking of the developed world today.
  • F – “Post”-Modern: The post-rational, systemic critique of modern life and society.
  • G – “Meta”-Modern: Read this book, please.

The metameme evolution follows a certain logic, Hanzi says, because some things have to be invented before others (we wouldn’t have airplanes prior to the invention of the wheel), but also because once those things that are sufficient for an invention to come about have been invented, then it is a near certainty that it will be invented (once things like the wheel and internal combustion engine and so on were invented, it was only a matter of time before the airplane was invented).

This is not teleological or deterministic, however. Hanzi says, for instance, that once those other inventions came about that were sufficient for the airplane to be invented, then the airplane was almost assured, but someone like the Red Baron was not a guarantee.

Am I being teleological? Nay. All I am saying is that there is a pattern or logic inherent to this kind of development, and that this pattern can be described. It’s the same as saying that when a child grows, they will become taller and gain weight. That’s it. It’s in the very definition of a child growing with age – more inches and pounds. Or when a population grows, that the number of people increases. It’s not that nature of God “wants” height, weight, or an increased number of people, it’s simply a description of important aspects of those forms of growth. There is an inherent logic to it. It is in the definitions.

I guess I am just saying this: NO, the following [in the next chapter] sequence of symbol-stages isn’t a monolithic railway path that society can and must follow, a mold which people can and should be forced.

Furthermore, at any time we could experience some kind of disaster – an asteroid strike or nuclear war – that would destroy human civilization and have all of this progression come crumbling down.

Now, I think the analogy of a developing child doesn’t work that well, since the development of growing up does follow a set of instructions, namely genetics. External things, such as nutrition, can influence it, but the developmental processes – bone growth and ossification, development of secondary sex characteristics, and so on – is determined by the genome. A sufficiently intelligent being (a sort of developmental Laplace’s demon) would be able to describe the development of a child just by reading off the child’s genome (and “epigenome,” which we can think of as notes in the margins and highlighted words).

This may seem pedantic, harping on the shortcomings of an analogy, but I think there is something to the idea of an “underlying code” in human development. Perhaps not one as deterministic as a genome and the development it codes for, but a certain kind of human nature (particularly our cognitive biases influencing the way that memetic mutation and propagation occurs), as well as certain geographical and biological/ecological conditions, has narrowed the possible paths that civilization could have taken.

Hanzi also assigns an MHC stage to each of these metamemes:

So yes, there is a connection, the “code” of each metameme following the logic pertaining to a specific order of hierarchical complexity. That’s the fundamental Realdialektik at play. It looks like this:

  • A – Archaic: Stage 7 Pre-Operational
  • B – Animistic: Stage 8 Primary
  • C – Faustian: Stage 9 Concrete
  • D – “Post”-Faustian: Stage 10 Abstract
  • E – Modern: Stage 11 Formal
  • F – “Post”-Modern: Stage 12 Systematic
  • G – “Meta”-Modern: Stage 13 Metasystematic

He notes, however, that being at stage 13 doesn’t necessarily mean that someone uses Metamodern code, only that it is sufficient to fully comprehend metamodernism. Indeed, he says:

We have already discussed the issue of “downward assimilation” during the last chapter. The majority of people with access to postmodern code accordingly use a “flattened” and simplified version of it. By necessity, the same goes for metamodern code, which only less than two percent have the cognitive hardware to operate successfully. [bold in original]


So for instance, we can expect, in today’s Western countries, a greater likelihood for:

  • MHC stage 10 Abstract thinkers to be attracted to the symbol-stage Postfaustian (that you have a soft spot for traditional religion, monolithic nationalism, etc.);
  • stage 11 Formal thinkers to be overrepresented with the symbol-stage Modern (mainstream society, liberalism);
  • stage 12 Systematic thinkers to gravitate towards symbol-stage Postmodern (critical thinking, counterculture, etc.);
  • and stage 13 Metasystematic thinkers to more often having installed a symbol-stage Metamodern toolkit (ideas such as in this book).

This is an ingenuous move for two reasons: (1) if you don’t agree with Hanzi, then you can be dismissed as having too low of a developmental stage to really understand metamodernism, and (2) if a devotee of metamodernism does something bad, then they can be dismissed as never having been a “true” metamodern thinker, using only a “flattened and simplified version of it” on account of being at a lower developmental stage. It’s that noetic effect of sin again.

The following video talks about the ideas in this chapter of the book, and it’s the video where I first heard about this book:

Chapter 11: The Symbol-Stages

Hanzi begins with a brief description of the first three stages – Archaic, Animistic, Faustian – that places the first to the time prior to stone-age art and artifacts. It was during the Archaic symbol-stage that multiple species in the Homo genus existed, such as Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis. There is evidence of humans burying their dead at this time, but often without much fanfare (at least not with artifacts that would survive until now, though it’s hard to know if wooden artifacts or plant matter wasn’t used as funerary decor). This symbol-stage seems to map onto the Cognitive Revolution described by Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.

The Animistic symbol-stage is when we start seeing things like cave paintings and more symbolic artifacts – beads and jewelry and so forth. The Faustian is when agriculture began. It is named after the German legend of Faust, who sold his soul for power, because it was in this symbol-stage when people began accumulating power over the newly sedentary societies (often through brutality, i.e., selling their soul). The transition into Faustian maps onto the Agricultural Revolution described by Yuval Noah Harari.

The next four stages (D, E, F, and G) are examined in more detail.

Symbol-Stage D: Postfaustian (Traditional)

Like Harari, what Hanzi sees as an overarching ethos of the Postfaustian symbol-stage is that of unification. Harari sees this as beginning more around 34 C.E. (the start of Christianity after the death of Jesus), Hanzi says it began earlier, around 500 B.C.E. (in and around the time that religions like Judaism and Buddhism began, and the time of people like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle). While Harari views this through a primarily geopolitical lens (the rise the empires and widespread conquest), Hanzi takes a broader view and sees the Postfaustian symbol-stage as being a time of unification in religion – the beginnings of monotheism and of ideas of a single ultimate Truth with a capital-T.

It’s during this time, Hanzi says, that the idea of the god-king, like the pharaoh, was replaced by the idea that the king must serve and answer to this ultimate Truth (e.g., the Mandate of Heaven). This was, according to Hanzi, also the time that notions of the infidel and the heretic arose, the former being a threat by virtue of being an outsider, whose ignorance of the Truth was seen as a threat such that they must be converted, repelled, or destroyed. The heretic, however, is an even bigger threat, since they know the Truth and yet still don’t believe it. As such, it was during the Postfaustian symbol-stage that ideas of religious war against the infidels and inquisition against the heretics arose.

Symbol-Stage E: Modern

This corresponds with Harari’s fourth and final change, the Scientific Revolution. Hanzi begins by saying that the logic of the Modern symbol-stage is verifiability (falsifiability) and inter-subjective confirmability. In other words, the Truth isn’t something created by decree and promulgated through a select clergy, but something anyone can (in principle) go out and find for themselves. The Truth is something that both you and I can mutually and/or independently discover – if we both see the moons of Jupiter, then they exist, but if only I can see an angel and you can’t, then it doesn’t exist.

This, Hanzi says, leads to scientific materialism and reductionism, which is the ontology of the mechanistic and clockwork universe. Furthermore, it is the symbol-stage that gave us the idea of the sovereign individual by virtue of being equal to all others in society:

We leave behind the private revelations, the ones found in remote caves after forty days of solitude, and bring forth the public revelation – that which can be confirmed by every human being by virtue of her own senses, reason and rationality. No longer is humanity a slave to the authoritative claims of others. Man can think for himself, and for the first time, in universal knowledge, he meets his fellow as an equal: the informed citizen is born.

Hanzi spends a few pages going on a hypothetical tirade from the perspective of “Modern Man” where this representative of Modernism decries religion as a lie and points to the virtues of science and individualism. He alludes to the so-called Copernican principle, in saying that science discovered that humans are not special and that reality is much bigger than we supposed.

In all the theatrics, Hanzi neglects to mention several other important aspects of the Modern symbol-stage: Protestantism (putting religion into the hands of individuals to interpret); the invention of the printing press (facilitating the rapid spread of new ideas); the age of exploration, globalization, and colonialism (often rationalized with perversions of science); Westphalian sovereignty and the rise of nationality and ethnicity as political caucuses; the rise of nationalism, liberalism, and republicanism; the industrial revolution; and so on. How much all of these can be explained by the scientific revolution and how much all of them arose independently and worked in concord with the scientific revolution is open to debate, but these things are all equally important aspects of Modernism.

Symbol-Stage F: Postmodern

There are contradictions and power dynamics at play in these universally verifiable Truths discovered by science. If everyone is equally human, how come there is colonialism, exploitation, and slavery (both wage and chattel)? Why does the oh-so-perfect market cause so much suffering (both human and animal) and destruction to the environment? And who gets to decide which methods for discovering and verifying the truth are the best ones? And how come only white, middle-class men are the ones who get to decide which inquiries are worth pursuing?

Postmodernism, as many are aware, is the critique of the sort of rational, universal individual and meta-narratives of progress that was the Modern symbol-stage. It pointed out social and cultural contingencies in knowledge; power dynamics at play in what is deemed natural, normal, and necessary; and submitted that language and symbols shape our perceptions and conceptions of reality, not the “objective” world “out there” beyond our hermeneutically constructed reality.

There is much to take seriously from postmodernism. It is likely a necessary bitter pill for the Modernists to swallow. But in the end it is little more than a solvent, containing nothing for the building of something new from the rubble of Modernist thought. I think it also went too far in its view that humans are culturally/socially constructed; or their view that knowledge that is at least operative, if not true, cannot be obtained through inter-subjective methods available to all people regardless of cultural background, such as science. There is also a whole movement that has adapted postmodernist thought into a dangerous political project, namely Social Justice.

Symbol-Stage G: Metamodern

Hanzi agrees that postmodernism has served more as a solvent than a solution (pun intended).

All of your [the postmodernists’] projects have fallen to the ground, without any of them deeply changing society. There have been some shifts, yes, but we still live in what must be seen as a modern society: still capitalist, alienating, unequal and ecologically disastrous.

The problem you have, dear pomo [postmodernist], is that you fail to construct or suggest anything useful or durable, because you are only truly interested in being an anti-thesis to the existing society.

Furthermore, much like Jason Ananda Josephson Storm, Hanzi thinks that one of the shortcomings of the postmodern is that it didn’t go far enough. This is because postmodernism didn’t sufficiently critique itself, but instead installed itself as the new meta-narrative, as the new clergy whose role it was to produce knowledge. The “pomos” weren’t interested in listening to and considering the views of the powerless they claimed to champion. They were only interested in the critique of existing power structures, but without having a vision of their own in mind.

Hanzi says that the metamodern, on the other hand, are interested in fixing “the three major problems of modern life: the excessive global inequalities, the alienation or neurotic anxieties of modern life, and ecological unsustainability.” This, he says must take the anti-thesis of postmodernism and the thesis of modernism and produce a proto-synthesis: a path to those solutions that is flexible and undogmatic.

This mode of separating history into symbol-stages (or the revolutions or Harari) is perhaps useful, but I think it runs the risk of becoming reified – conceived so that it is viewed as something real instead of simply a helpful tool. This is evident in the way Hanzi likes to pair these symbol-stages with the MHC stages.

The cognitive requirements for successfully operating the symbol-stages increases with one MHC stage per symbol-stage. This has two important implications.

First of all, the later symbol-stages are more difficult to install, which means fewer people will manage to install them (E and G in particular). This largely explains why the majority of the adult world population, hundreds of years after the Scientific Revolution, is still running on the symbol-stage D Postfaustian.

The second, perhaps even more disparaging, implication is that fewer and fewer people can b expected to successfully operate the later symbol-stages. … This is because literally 98% of adults are, in terms of cognitive complexity, simply below stage 13 Metasystematic. [bold in original]

I would say I don’t buy into this notion that metamodernism is so complex that only 2% of the population can “truly” understand it, but using that old noetic effect of sin maneuver, I could be accused of being a stage 10 mental-midget unfit to breathe the rarefied air of such lofty ideas without perverting and “flattening” them in order to wrap my simple mind around such heavy concepts as “if we all just work together and listen to one another we can create a utopia!” (I’m aware that this is exactly the kind of flattening of the ideas Hanzi talks about, but I was doing it for rhetorical flair).

That being said, symbol-stages are perhaps a useful model for how to think about socially shared knowledge throughout history, and how the ethos pertaining to the acquisition and employment of that knowledge has transformed throughout time. It does, beginning in the Modern symbol-stage, take a very Eurocentric view, but I think that is unavoidable: for better or worse, beginning no later than the 18th century, most of world history has been shaped and influenced by Europeans exporting (or imposing) Modernism to the rest of the world.

Chapter 12: Subjective States

Hanzi spills a lot of ink trying to describe the phenomenology of different subjective states using words. Some points he makes, though, that our subjective experience of reality is an inescapable, and therefore vitally important (if not of paramount importance) to the way we think about things like politics and science. The world is not made up of dead, inert matter; we, in fact, are matter, and things matter to us, and therefore matter matters to matter.

In our world, Hanzi notes, there is an immense potential for both suffering and for bliss. As such, he says, “existence has us eternally by the balls.” He relates this to Heidegger‘s notion of Dasein or being-in-the-world, “…which is the transformable side of consciousness: the side of consciousness that can be higher or lower.” In other words, raised into “higher states” or reduced into “lower states” of subjectivity, which are different from mere emotions, being more fundamental.

These higher and lower states can be ranked:

Obviously, the totality of subjective experience is impossible to catch in a number from one to ten. But if we posit that subjective states can be higher or lower, it is possible to assign numbers to descriptions of them. This creates a hierarchical scale which is considerably less arbitrary than simply “one to ten”.

Although recognizing that such a one-dimensional scale will be inadequate to capture all the nuance of subjective experience, Hanzi believes that it can still be useful. He thus proposes the following scale:

Lower States:

  • 1. Hell
  • 2. Horrific (phenomenological reality breaks down)
  • 3. Tortured
  • 4. Tormented

Medium States:

  • 5. Very uneasy
  • 6. Uneasy, uncomfortable
  • 7. Somewhat uneasy, “okay”, full of small faults
  • 8. Satisfied, well
  • 9. Good, lively
  • 10. Joyous, full of light, invigorated

High states:

  • 11. Vast, grand, open
  • 12. Blissful, saintly
  • 13. Enlightened, spiritual unity

He says that this is an ordinal scale, and so we can say that a state is higher or lower than another one, but they don’t necessarily have equal distance (i.e., it does not have a metric). Additionally, he admits that the scale may actually be continuous rather than discrete, but to make things easier we will be assuming it is discrete.

I don’t think anything in this chapter is too disagreeable. Indeed, much of it I think is commonsense. Things matter to people. Our subjective states are important; the reason to do any of the other things humans get up to (science, politics, art, etc.) is, in the end, to attempt to give people better subjective states, or at least to make them less bad. There is a one-dimensional scale of how “good” (or preferable) such states are, even if we all disagree about the details (i.e., what those states even are and how many there should be; whether and how to achieve them; etc.). As such, I’m just going to move on to the next chapter.

Chapter 13: Reaching Higher

States, Hanzi is quick to note, are not the same as stages, and so developing them will be quite different. One way is that a stage includes everything in the lower stages (someone at stage 11 is also capable of doing any of what someone at stage 10 can do) whereas states are exclusive (e.g., if you are good and lively, then you are not tormented). Additionally, you can move up and down the space of states from moment to moment, whereas a stage is much more homeostatic and long-lasting.

The higher states and lower states, Hanzi says, are quite rare, and that many people have likely never experienced them. As such, he says, they are often considered “less real” than the sort of default medium states. We shouldn’t think this way, he argues, since those states are incorrigible – it is an undeniable fact that someone in such a state is experiencing that state. Additionally, being in the higher or lower states gives a person a different view of reality that shouldn’t be dismissed as delusional or hallucinatory. Though he does make the point that his idea of spiritual doesn’t contain any specific religious content, merely that it means achieving (or striving for) the higher states.

Hansi is aware that this model of subjective states is incomplete:

There are obviously many unanswered questions here: What about animals of different cognitive stages of complexity and different developments of the nervous system; does it make sense to talk about subjective states of insects, or fish? What are the physiological correlates? How do emotions fit in – surely they are not entirely separate from subjective states? What about the distinction between how pleasurable a state is and and the degree of its intensity? Are we more selfish (or self-absorbed) in lower states than in higher ones?

He concludes, however, that having a partial theory is better than having no theory at all, so he will stick with it, despite its imperfections.

And so, this brings us to the idea of developing one’s subjective state. What does that entail? Hanzi says this could take on several forms:

  • Increase the median state.
  • Increase the average state.
  • Increase the minimum state.
  • Increase the maximum state.
  • Increase state variability (decrease stability) in an organism – if that would be beneficial given its current state and context.
  • Increase state stability (decrease variability) in an organism – if that would be beneficial given its current state and context.

According to Hanzi, “It is a moral imperative…to organize society in a way that optimizes the likelihood for higher subjective states of living organisms.”

I can imagine that we could produce a society that at least increases the minimum state for more people, perhaps even the median, but I’m not sure how we could increase the maximum. At least not outside a medical and/or neurological intervention. Something like the God helmet:

The temporal lobe appears to be integral to having higher experiences. Using transcranial magnetic stimulation can induce such spiritual/religious experiences. Some people don’t seem to have high sensitivity with this. This, however, gets into the territory of the Nozickian experience machine: if maximizing higher states of subjectivity is the highest moral good, then is it morally good for everyone to be strapped into a transcranial magnetic stimulation device giving them constant feelings of spiritual transcendence? David Chalmers might make an argument that it would be, that such a state would be real in all important senses. I think many people would disagree, though.

Personally, I’m quite certain I’ve never had a subjective state above a 10 on Hanzi’s scale, and reaching 9 or 10 is is extremely rare for me. I have definitely had lower states, for sure a 4, probably even a 3. I’m an alcoholic (I’ve been sober for a few years now), and during active addiction, I have definitely dropped that low.

Chapter 14: Depth

Hanzi defines Depth like this:

Depth is a person’s intimate, embodied acquaintance with subjective states. A person’s inner depth increases through her felt, lived and intuitive knowledge of a new subjective state (lower or higher than previously experienced) – and when the intimate acquaintance of that state becomes an integrated part of her psychological constitution; a part, if you will, of her personality. [bold in original]

Essentially it means satisfying two conditions:

  1. Having experienced a wide range of subjective states
  2. Having learned something from those experiences that have had a profound impact on you as a person and the way you experience and understand the world

This second condition precludes people who, say, take DMT or LSD a few times to experience higher states of subjectivity, but do it only for the subjective feeling while intoxicated. Thus, Hanzi equates depth with wisdom, in that someone can be very smart (maybe they even have a PhD), but if they haven’t experienced the sorts of experiences that life has to offer, then their relationship to their own subjective experience isn’t as deep.

It makes me think of that scene in Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams and Matt Damon meet on the bench:

Hanzi warns, however, that having more depth doesn’t make one always right, or have more complex thoughts. He says, in fact, that greater depth is frequently accompanied by low MCH stage and lower symbol-stage “software” being used. Such people can develop certain pathologies, like spiritual arrogance, or (because of low-complexity thinking) a sort of totalitarian attitude (i.e., thinking their wisdom brings them great insight that must be foisted on others).

There are three forms of depth, that Hanzi calls the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person forms (I/me, you, and it, respectively), which are how we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the external world, respectively. Hanzi also discusses three forms of inner depth, which are beauty, mystery, and tragedy.

Chapter 15: Wisdom Troubles

People can have different forms and different levels of depth. The former means that, say a person who has experienced subjective states between 2 and 7 and another who has experienced subjective states between 6 and 11, will have very different forms of depth, and will likely be blind to the other’s form of depth. Likewise, there can be different levels of depth, where two people who have experienced subjective states between 6 and 11 might have integrated these experiences into their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person ways of relating to the self, other, and world.

Another problem, Hanzi notes, is that communications about the lower states and higher states is uncommon, difficult, and can easily be abused or exploited. As such, we live in a society where only the medium states are viewed as socially acceptable, which can leave people feeling alienated. It also means that we often view other people as being shallow or simpleminded, since we rarely share in lower states or higher states.

Hanzi also discusses a problem with “wisdom” as he sees it. This is that wisdom is often viewed by its proponents as a panacea for all social ills while at the same time not having a good operative definition or even a way of measuring how “wise” someone is. Wisdom is one of those things that one can’t define, but they know it when they see it. Unfortunately, people often only see it when the wise person is saying things they agree with.

Think about it. The concept of wisdom becomes a projection screen, upon which we can project pretty, wishful images. We can paint anything that feels good onto this “super-duper-variable”. The problem is that it would break down into a giant slugfest of disappointment and conflict if operationalized in society: People would have to start arguing about how is wise, really, and why, and what that means. And a lot of people would force a lot of low quality “wisdom” down other people’s throats. Or sell it to them by means of expensive consulting and motivational speeches. Wisdome, after all, is most often just taken to mean: “you folks should be more like me.” This way, wisdom is simply the speaker’s received wisdom.

As such, Hanzi thinks his own definition using depth is, although perhaps imperfect, at least an operative definition. He also suggests that the combination of depth and MHC stage could be used for wisdom, but he doesn’t say conclusively if this is how it ought to be defined.

While, as a scientist, I can sympathize with wanting an operational definition that can at least be approximately quantified, I don’t know that Hanzi’s definition captures what most people think when they think about wisdom. Another dimension, on top of depth and ability to think complex thoughts, is understanding. Here I am defining understanding as satisfying three criteria:

  1. Having knowledge
  2. Being able to utilize that knowledge in novel situations (aren’t just following a protocol)
  3. Knowing the extend of one’s knowledge

The second criterion is to preclude people who simply just know a bunch of trivia; the third criteriod is to prevent the Dunning-Kruger Effect (in other words, Socrates was the wisest for knowing that he knew nothing). Someone who is wise knows things, and they can use that knowledge. I think, for example, of my father, who is a very good handyman. He is good enough at woodwork, plumbing, electrical work, and other household things (as well as car repair stuff) that he can (A) often times fix things himself, without having to call a professional, and (B) knows enough about it to not get taken advantage of in those instances where he does have to call a professional. I, on the other hand, although I have significantly more schooling and know a lot about math, quantum mechanics, chemistry, physics, biology, philosophy, and so on, am a complete moron when it comes to simple household things like how to replace an outlet or a leaky pipe. Futher, if I had to call someone else to fix those things for me, it would be easy for them to screw me over because I’m so not wise in that department.

This last point, too, is important: someone can be wise in some ways, or on some subjects, but not others. Wisdom is the kind of knowledge obtained by experience – think of that person you probably know who is good at cars and can diagnose something wrong with your engine just by listening to it. They’ve encountered that problem before, probably multiple times. The inner workings of an engine is second nature to them. But if they were stranded out in the wilderness, this person might be in big trouble if they aren’t wise as a survivalist.

Yet these kinds of things would be difficult to quantify. Does my father have a “rank 7” wisdom on handyman things while I have a “rank 2” wisdom? What does that mean? At what point, if I delved into those things, would I then be a “rank 3” wisdom on it? What is the maximum? The minimum? It’s difficult, if not impossible, to say.

I can see how depth and MHC would correlate well with this understanding dimension; it wouldn’t be a completely independent degree of freedom from the former two. A person who has acquired great depth, as Hanzi defines it, and a high MHC stage is like to at least accidentally pick up some usable knowledge on the way. But, I can also imagine that, say, some Buddhist monk who spends most of his time meditating and training himself to attain higher subjective states, and having experienced very low ones while living in poverty prior to joining the monastery, while also reaching a high MHC stage simply due to genetic predisposition, could still be unwise if he hasn’t learned anything useful about the world.

That all being said, the deepness + MHC stage definition likely has two out of three necessary conditions, so it’s not wrong, just incomplete.

Chapter 16: Effective Value Meme

Effective Value Meme is effective in the sense of it being what your “Value Meme” effectively is. Think, for instance, when it’s -10° C out, but the wind is howling, so it’s effectively colder than that (the wind chill makes it effectively -20° C).

The effective value meme, which Hanzi adapts from Spiral Dynamics (although he harbors quite the disdain for its developers Don Beck and Chris Cowan as well as the way the theory was formulated). It uses colors for the different psychological / societal stages:

You can see how these have a correspondence with Hanzi’s symbol-stages, which he puts this way:

  • Archaic (corresponds to BEIGE)
  • Animistic (corresponds to PURPLE)
  • Faustian (corresponds to RED)
  • Postfaustian (corresponds to BLUE)
  • Modern (corresponds to ORANGE)
  • Postmodern (corresponds to GREEN)
  • Metamodern (corresponds to YELLOW)

Hanzi thinks that this is too simplistic because it tries to account for the four dimensions he has discussed (complexity, symbol-stage, state, and depth) with a single degree of freedom. But, using his four dimensions, instead of assigning someone an actual value meme, they are assigned an effective value meme that takes all four into account:

Development in each of the four dimensions I have presented [complexity, symbol-stage, subjective state, and depth] adds to your overall effective value meme. [bold in original]

  • Complexity, or MHC [Model of Hierarchical Complexity] stage, adds to your effective value meme because it helps you see and relate to more abstract layers of the world. Simple societies don’t require as complex thinking as larger, more complex ones (even if they of course often require you to develop more practical skills and perform more difficult tasks).
  • Having “installed” a more advanced symbol-stage, having access to a more advanced symbolic toolkit, adds to your effective value meme. This is because the later symbolic codes are developed specifically to suit the realities we face in larger and more complex societies.
  • Higher state (average, median, minimum and maximum) adds to your effective value meme because it means that you live in a lighter world, which gives you the emotional fuel to accept a more universalistic and less selfish view of society. This is necessary in larger and more complex societies.
  • Greater depth adds to your effective value meme, because it makes you relate to more profound and universal aspects of reality and existence, which is also increasingly necessary in a globalized internet age.

Thus, a person high in MHC stage but low in depth might be considered in the same effective value meme as someone low in MHC stage but high in depth. Similarly, although Thomas Aquinas might not have known things like Newtonian physics and other intellectual developments that came after him (other aspects of the symbol-stage) while a modern day 14-year-old does, Aquinas had a very high MHC stage and depth and so therefore would have a higher effective value meme than a modern day 14-year-old.

Hanzi gives a table of effective value meme gravity points, which are the effective value memes that people within a given society tend to gravitate towards:

Adapted from table on page 311

So, for instance, a place like the United States has, according to Hanzi, a gravitation point at the Modern effective value meme, and so people living in the U.S. tend to gravitate toward that effective value meme. People with higher (min, max, med) subjective states and greater depth are the ones who tend to surpass the society’s effective value meme gravitation point, while those with lower subjective states and lesser depth tend to lag behind. Meanwhile, according to Hanzi, places like India have their effective value meme gravitation point in the Postfaustian, and so people in that society gravitate there, while people with higher states and more depth surpass it, and so on. But, people like gangster, who tend to value things like strength and honor, have less depth and will lag behind in places like the Faustian effective value meme.

Hanzi also points out that although the effective value meme and the symbol-stage appear to be the same, they are not. He says:

But symbol-stages and effective value memes are not the same. The symbol-stages are the abstract logics inherent to the symbols, whereas effective value meme are descriptions of embodied behaviors. So even people with earlier symbol-stages can behave at higher value memes, if they have high stage, high average stage and great depth. Likewise, you can live in a modern society and still have a pre-modern effective value meme.

He then gives some descriptions of each of the effective value memes. I’m not going to go into too much detail with them here, so this is highly truncated from what Hanzi says:

Archaic: showed up perhaps up to 2 million years ago with Homo erectus; observed nowadays only in very young children and the severely mentally handicapped

Animistic: showed up around 40,000 years ago; observed nowadays in hunter-gatherer cultures and in people with magical thinking (psychics and astrologers and so forth)

Faustian: began in Neolithic age; shows up in places like gangs or warlord societies (Hanzi specifically mentions Afghan tribal societies), so essentially honor cultures; also seen in Wiccan, Pagan, and Voodoo practices, which is why (according to Hanzi) these sorts of ideas appeal to adolescents

Postfaustian: showed up around 2500 years ago; observed in those who adhere to very traditional religions – Hanzi lists “from Amish and Christian fundamentalists to orthodox Jews to Sri Lankan Buddhist zealots to most people in India. ANd, of course, a whole lot of Muslims. But you might also count many of the nationalists and ethnocentric conservatives around Europe as elsewhere as postfaustian…”

Modern: begins during French Enlightenment, though perhaps even as early as the Italian Renaissance; where most people in modern Western civilization reside; Hanzi says they believe things like “…human rights, progress, science, democracy, civil liberties, fair competition, rule of law.” However, they also are anthropocentric in that they “have no problem with mass-killing and torturing animals for the most trivial of human concerns, such as sausage for profit. Nor do you see anything wrong with overexploiting ecosystems, destroying all life on the planet if it translates to gains for humans…”

Postmodern: proto-forms were found as early as the beginnings of the 19th century, but didn’t come into its own until 1968 (Hanzi gives the start as being that specific); concerned with “antiracism, gender equality issues, criticism of norms, general political correctness, environmentalism, multiculturalism, displays of postmaterialist values (at least in a superficial sense that you can brag about eco-vacations and whatnot).” And also “The Postmodern value meme doesn’t believe in ‘progress’, but rather that societies change over time.”

Metamodern: “…is being born as we speak, so we can’t really give a historical example and a current one.” According to Hanzi, those at the Metamodern value meme care about the psychological development and inner dimensions of all people; they, unlike in lower value memes, recognize the value that the other value memes can bring and so do not dismiss them outright, but still seeks to transcend them; furthemore:

By and large, you can spot the Metamodern value meme in people who have successfully internalized all of the postmodern values and thinking, but also add a developmental perspective and begin to value inner growth and authenticity to a much higher degree. They also have a transpersonal perspective, seeing that root causes of social problems are generally to be found in the great fabric of relationships that constitute society and that this is inseparable from the depths of our inner selves. The Metamodern value meme also accepts the importance of elites and hierarchies – something to which the postmoderns are deeply allergic – and it accepts the fact that not all people can be included in all settings: for instance, that not all people can become metamodernists. [bold and italics in original]

So, if we want to oversimplify, it seems that the metamodernist project is in consciousness raising. Metamodernism is synonymous with a political-psychological form of leftist thought, such that by raising a person’s consciousness to the Metamodern value meme, you will become a Green Social Liberal (because if you don’t, then that is a telltale sign that you haven’t yet had your consciousness sufficiently raised).

Chapter 17: Major Implications

Hanzi begins by saying that there is no effective value meme above Metamodernism (at least not yet, anyway), i.e., the Spiral Dynamics TURQUOISE. This is because:

  1. There is no decisive critique of Metamodernism that transcends Metamodernism
  2. Symbol-Stage G is only properly understood by MHC Stage 13 or higher, where Stage 13 is only 2% of the population; a successful critique of Metamodernism could only come from someone who is MHC stage 14 or higher who has downloaded Symbol-Stage code H, but such a Symbol-Stage would need to be created by someone who is MHC Stage 15 and who has successfully downloaded Symbol-Stage G, which is far too rare
    • Furthermore, the Depth and State needed to comprehend such a value meme would be prohibitive
    • A person capable of reaching this value meme, Hanzi estimates, would be in the realm of 1 in a hundred thousand.
  3. There is no place in the world where enough such people are gathered as to reach a sufficient critical mass to begin a new effective value meme

Hanzi says, however, that there are enough people at the Metamodern value meme. Let’s examine this by running some back-of-the-envelope numbers:

If the Metamodern value meme is associated with the stage 13 of MHC, which has scant few people (up to 2% of the population) and requires the successful downloading of symbol-stage G, where most people are running on symbol-stage E, then the gravity point for most advanced societies is going to be the Modern. Less advanced societies will be behind that. In order to then think beyond the Modern effective value meme gravitational point, a person must be achieving higher subjective states a sufficient amount of the time and/or have great depth, both of which are also very rare. So, we can think of such people as being a certain proportion of the population P(M) where M = Metamodern value meme. We thus have:

P(M) = P(MHC Stage) x P(Symbol-Stage) x P(Higher States) x P(Great Depth) x P(E)

Where the P(E) is a sort of “error” in that we have to assume that having all of the necessary requirements for being at a Metamodern value meme isn’t sufficient for being there, and so a part of the population who satisfies the necessary requirements will still not be at the Metamodern value meme. If P(E) = 1 that would mean that having the right combination of MHC Stage, Symbol-Stage, Higher States, and Depth is sufficient to bring someone to the Metamodern value meme; if P(E) < 1 then the right combination of those things are not sufficient, but can still be considered necessary conditions.

According to Hanzi, P(MHC Stage = 13) is 0.02 of the population. This is required for a person to successfully download Symbol-Stage G (without using a “flattened” version of it), so that will necessarily be less than 0.02 of the population (not all MHC Stage 13 will have Symbol-Stage G, but all Symbol-Stage G must have MHC Stage 13 (or higher, but we will assume Stage 14 and 15 are vanishingly rare)). Lets say, just for the sake of argument, that it is exactly overlapping with the people at MHC Stage 13 (having MHC Stage 13 is both necessary and sufficient to have Symbol-Stage G), and so we can just say that:

P(MHC Stage) = P(Symbol-Stage) = 0.02

Giving us:

P(M) = 0.02 x P(Higher States) x P(Great Depth) x P(E)

But then how many people of lower MHC Stage are reaching Higher States a sufficient amount of time to move above their station as determined by MHC Stage and Symbol-Stage? Hanzi doesn’t offer any explicit numbers here, except to say that there are likely many people who have never experienced higher states.

We also know that P(Great Depth) and P(Higher States) are not totally independent of each other, since a necessary condition for achieving Great Depth is to have experienced subjective states at either extreme – either Higher States, Lower States, or both. Since we don’t want to include those people who regularly reach Higher States for recreational reasons, let’s assume for the sake of argument that we only care about the people who have reached Higher States and have Great Depth; but, we also have to account for the people who achieve Great Depth by means of experiencing Lower States. We thus have:

P(GD) = P(GD|HS) x P(HS) + P(GD|LS) x P(LS)

Where GD = Great Depth, HS = Higher States, and LS = Lower States

Let’s charitably say that the proportion of people who achieve Great Depth given that they have achieved Higher States is 0.4 and that the proportion of people who achieve Great Depth given that they have achieved Lower States is 0.2 (smaller since such people are likely to end up wallowing in misery or being unable to escape their current situation). Then what is the prior probability of achieving Higher States and Lower States? Again, let’s be charitable and say it is 0.2 of the population for each. We thus have:

P(GD) = 0.4 x 0.2 + 0.2 x 0.2
P(GD) = 0.12

That gives us the following:

P(M) = 0.02 x 0.12 x P(E)
P(M) = 0.0024 x P(E)

We then have to determine what P(E) is, but this is going to be even more subjective than what we’ve already done. For the sake of argument, I’ll say it’s P(E) = 1, i.e., that everyone who satisfies the requirements will attain the Metamodern value meme. This proportion of 0.0024 then, assuming a world population of 7.5 billion, and that all of them are equally likely to achieve the Metamodern value meme, gives us:

7,500,000,000 x 0.0024 = 18,000,000

Or, 18 million people worldwide who are at the Metamodern value meme. But this is perhaps being overly charitable. According to Hanzi, in places like India, everyone is in an effective value meme lower than Metamodern, and that’s at least a billion people just right there. We can assume that many other people in the developing world, or living in poverty in advanced societies like Russia and China, are also prevented from attaining the Metamodern value meme. That’s also not to mention that many of those 7.5 billion are children, old, and the infirm. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that a person must be an adult (but not too old) and must live in an advanced Western civilization. Let’s say that this is about 1 billion people worldwide. We then have:

1,000,000,000 x 0.0024 = 2,400,000

So, 2.4 million people who are at the Metamodern value meme. This sounds like a lot. But we have to take into account the number of people who are within this privileged 1 billion but who are not at the Metamodern value meme, which is 997,600,000 people, all of whom will be using perverted or “flattened” versions of Metamodernism, if not resisting Metamodernism altogether.

Let’s for the sake of argument say that these truly enlightened Metamodernists have an outsized ability to become influencers (not just of the online personality variety, but within society as a whole – politics, science, business, celebrity, art, etc.). Indeed, let’s say that 90% of them will end up in these positions while only 0.5% (half a percent) of the non-Metamoderns can. This gives us:

2,400,000 x 0.9 = 2,160,000 Metamoderns

997,600,000 x 0.005 = 4,988,000 non-Metamoderns

In other words, even at this rate, there are still more than twice as many non-Metamoderns in positions of influence as there are Metamoderns (2.3 times as many given these numbers). But, I’m sure Hanzi might object, it’s not that the sheer number of Metamodernists is what is important, it is also that they hold outsized cultural/social capital and are therefore much better at networking with one another – the whole of this community is greater than the sum of its parts. Meanwhile, the non-Metamodernists are less capable of such networking and do not present a united front. We thus have to add a weighting factor in order to give us what we might call the effective population of the effective value meme (i.e., instead of the real population, it’s the effective population). A sort of Φ from integrated information theory.

If we set Φ = 1 in the case that every individual within the population is acting independently, then if there is effective networking going on we will have Φ > 1. We can thus use Φ as a weight such that:

[Population at EVM] x [Population EVM Influencers] x Φ

And so the above calculations would be:

2,400,000 x 0.9 x Φ

997,600,000 x 0.005 x Φ

But then we need to determine what Φ is. For the non-Metamodern population we might set it at 1 given that we would have individuals working together as cohorts, but those cohorts might be working at cross-purposes and therefore reducing Φ. For the Metamodernists, assuming they will all be unified in their ends and means, we would need Φ > 2.3 which was the factor greater that our non-Metamodernist real population within positions of influence was compared to the Metamodernist real population within positions of influence.

Even if we assume that Metamodernism truly is the way that society ought to go (indeed, even needs to go in order for humanity to sustain itself), the Metamodernists still likely have an uphill battle against opponents and those who will warp the ideology through no fault of their own.

Hanzi puts the number of people at the Metamodern value meme at less than a tenth of a percent, or <0.01% (although Sweden he says is probably closer to somewhere around less than half a percent, or <0.5%), which is even more pessimistic than my estimate of 0.24% from above.

If we go back to the computer analogy, where MHC Stage is hardware and Symbol-Stage is software, we might modify it and say that MHC Stage is the processor and RAM and State + Depth is the graphics card. What happens if the Moore’s Law of cognition and wisdom has reached a point of prohibitively diminished returns? In other words, getting enough people to the Metamodern value meme before some kind of environmental, economic, and/or political cataclysm prevents ascension to the Listening Society? We could think of his as a sort of psychological great filter: all intelligent civilizations in the universe reach a point where their psychological development is too slow to keep up with the growing needs of solving their respective hyperobjects.

This would be a result, perhaps, of the fact that MHC Stage 13 and above is so rare on account of the genetic predisposition being so low in the population. Not just the genetic predisposition toward developing a brain capable of such complex thoughts, but also a genetic predisposition toward taking the sorts of actions required to achieve such a high MHC Stage. In other words, doing the kind of work needed to reach MHC Stage 13 is so difficult that even a large portion of the people genetically capable of achieving MHC Stage 13 will not be predisposed to doing all that is necessary to get there.

A possible solution to this might be so-called designer babies. Using techniques like CRISPR on germline cells, humans with a genetic predisposition for reaching MHC Stage 13 and higher, and toward doing the work necessary to achieve this potential, it might be possible to produce a critical mass of human intelligence capable of ushering in Hanzi’s Listening Society (still assuming such a goal is desirable).

Additionally, artificial general intelligences that are MHC Stage 13 and higher (maybe even much higher) might be an approach to achieving this, perhaps ones that we lower humans could use as oracles (which we already do to some extent using algorithms, but I’m picturing an artificial general intelligence).

Indeed, if a moral imperative is to psychologically develop people to as high of an effective value meme as possible, then making more people have the potential to reach the highest effective value memes is also a moral imperative. In other words, it is morally incumbent on us to produce the so-called designer babies and eventually the artificial general intelligences that can even vastly surpass us modern day non-augmented human beings.

Metamodernism, Hanzi says, is the next stage of a long process of secularization in society, where each effective value meme was more secular (in Hanzi’s definition of secular) than the last:

So step by step, the belief in a “ground of reality”, in “true essences”, is pushed farther into the periphery. Step by step, people acquire a worldview in which larger parts of reality can be questioned, and thereby explained, and thereby governed. The spirits and ghosts are exorcized again and again. The main takeaway from this is, as I have indicated several times already, that we shouldn’t see people at the Modern value meme s “secular”. They believe all sorts of deeply irrational and crazy things, and they cannot be trusted to act rationally in matters of societal development. This is because they will tend to rely upon much too rigid an unqestioned assumptions about reality [sic]. Only the Metamodern value meme can see the world with a sufficient sobriety. Secularism isn’t really about religion vs. non-religion, or spirituality vs. non-spirituality; it is about expanding the ability to question and recreate reality. [bold in original]

You go from spirits to gods to a universal God, to reductionist science, to critique and sociology of knowledge, to an understanding of transpersonalism and complexity. At every step, you kill the spirits and gods of yesteryear. The metamodern creed is, at its core, married to an atheism so pervasive and radical that even the modern and postmodern gods [science/reason and structures of power, respectively] are exposed as illusions.

Hanzi admits that even metamodernism isn’t the last word on reality, but metamodernism understands this about itself, and so (presumably) it will not resist its own replacement when something better comes along. Besides, according to Hanzi, metamodernism is both necessary if we want a more just society, and it is already happening, and so one should not question it too deeply.

Indeed, Hanzi sort of anticipates my argument from above by saying that not everyone working towards metamodernism need be doing it on purpose or with the entirety of the goal in mind, just so long as the metamodern aristocracy can nudge the dialectic in the right direction.

Hanzi adds the further wrinkle of the “Light” version of a value meme and a “Dark” version of a value meme:


  • High state
  • Great dept, “light” depth
  • Lower complexity
  • Imperfect code


  • High complexity
  • Well-developed code
  • Low state
  • “Dark” depth (i.e. depth derived from acquaintance with lower states)

The “Light” ones are more likely to be spiritualist hippy types while the “Dark” ones more likely to be the deconstructionist intellectual types. The Light type, he says, likely outnumber the Dark type, since according to Hanzi, there aren’t that many complex thinkers.

These “Light” and “Dark” aspects can lead to pathologies, according to Hanzi: those of the “Light” variety can hold onto magical residuals, which make them believe in the paranormal – he names Deepak Chopra as an example of this. The “Dark” variety can lead to reductionism, which is a sort of mechanical, instrumental, and deconstructionist bent, but without every doing it toward some higher goal.

Another dimension he adds is the “progressive vs. the regressive and the retarded [his word]” which is essentially where someone falls in comparison to the typical or average effective value mem of their society. Thomas Jefferson, he says, did some monstrous things by our modern standards (e.g., he owned slaves) by by the standards of his own time he was progressive, i.e., ahead of the curve in his effective value meme. Donald Trump, Hanzi says, although progressive by the standards of Jefferson’s time (e.g., even Trump might find owning slaves reprehensible), but he is regressive in our modern world. Such “value meme retards” Hanzi says “will try to defend and promulgate values that simply do not match the systemic realities of their own society.” These people are therefore destined to lose to the more progressive people in the end.

Concluding Remarks

There is a lot in The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics that is quite interesting. I found the Model of Hierarchical Complexity very compelling. The Symbol-Stage model is also a potentially useful way of conceptualizing the sort of societal knowledge as it grows and evolves.

I also find myself agreeing with the authors about the fact that our world needs to take a view from complexity if we want to understand, much less address, the sorts of hyperobjects that face our civilization.

One thing I’ve neglected to mention throughout this review, but that is a large undercurrent throughout this book, is the focus on animal rights. Indeed, near the end, the authors assert that our imprisonment and exploitation of animals is the biggest atrocity being committed by humans. I think there is a good argument to be made that this is the case, but I’m also skeptical – both as to how massive of a crime it is (though this is an argument about scale, not about whether it is or isn’t a crime), but also about whether anything can or ever will be done about it. At least not without completely changing human nature on a global scale, which itself could easily become a crime on a titanic scale.

But most of where I find disagreement with the authors is (A) with their prescription and (B) with their optimism. The model – effective value memes – may have its uses, and I’m sure it could be adjusted and modified in certain ways to make it even more useful, but I don’t find it untrue. The prescription I disagree with is that we need the government getting in the business of “helping” with psychological development.

Which brings me to my disagreement with their optimism: that they think this enlightened group of metamodern aristocrats could ever be trusted to become our benevolent philosopher kings, kindly directing the low effective value meme masses toward utopia. I agree that some people can think more complex thoughts than others, that some people have more depth than others, but there is a reason why it’s taboo to talk about it, and that’s because it is a near inevitability that it will be exploited and abused in exactly the same way that the fictitious “racial hierarchies” were. People are hesitant to accept hierarchies because of such abuses in the past; that and, as the authors are aware, erecting hierarchical models and telling people that they’re lower within them will generate resentment. You want to alienate people from your political project? Tell them they’re just naturally too simple-minded to get why you’re trying to do things they don’t want (look how well Clinton calling Trump’s supporters “deplorables” motivated his followers).

The result is that what we’re likely to get, if we follow the advice of this book, is either a totalitarian state of self-appointed “enlightened ones” (and then the inevitable cronyist-appointed bureaucrats and successors who, even if the first batch of “enlightened ones” are well-meaning are almost certain to engage in corruption and abuse); or we will end up with a violent backlash against this project by the resentful masses.

It might be difficult for people who don’t live outside of academic and upper-middle-class type circles to understand, but a lot of people don’t like them: their feelings toward this “bourgeoisie” ranging anywhere between a general distrust to a full-on venomous hatred. And most of them are unlikely to make a distinction between postmodern thinkers, with all their political correctness, cancelling, and hatred of the “common man,” and the metamodern who tell them they’re too simple-minded to know what’s good for them (even if this is actually true) and that this enlightened metamodern aristocracy will tell them what is.

I keep using words like inevitable, but how do I know this? As the quote often attributed to Mark Twain goes: history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. We don’t really know how it was in the Archaic or Animistic value memes, but the Faustian is characterized (indeed even named after) the accumulation of power. The Postfaustian gave itself a veneer of legitimacy beyond might-makes-right, but the secular institutions were still all about power and violence while the religious institutions were magnets for corrupt opportunists and abusive true believers. The Modern value meme gave us the horrors of Nazism and Communism, able to carry out the sorts of atrocities their Postfaustian forebears could only dream of, in the name of making better humans (the Nazi Master Race or the Communist New Soviet Man). Now days we have the Postmodernists successfully making their long march through the institutions and grabbing power for themselves. Why think the Metamodernists will be any different?